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New film wonders at alternative career for Churchill

Churchill and the Movie Mogul

Broadcast 25th September, 9pm, BBC Four

This compelling documentary sheds new light on the relationship between film producer, Alexander Korda a Hungarian refugee who made England his home, founder of London Films and owner of British Lion Films and Winston Churchill, war time prime minister and latterly historian and elder statesman. Churchill worked as a scriptwriter and historical advisor to Korda in the 1930s during his ‘wilderness years’ from Parliament. In his first week alone of handsomely paid employment with Korda he produced a 7,000 word treatment for a film.

He carried on creating content for Korda and their relationship flourished. They had much in common, Churchill was only half British (his mother was American) and he was anti establishment, Korda was an immigrant who against the odds became Britain’s only movie mogul. He saw opportunities in film and created a great studio complex in Denham, Buckinghamshire. Churchill had always wanted to work in film he understood its power and longevity.

Many contributors point out that Churchill had a naturally cinematic mind, he wrote with a sweeping pan of descriptive prose, a visionary in more ways than one. His later speeches were always heroic, and at the same time convincing the hearts and minds of his audience that he was also humble but brave, as he expected them to be. This was the key to the success of them and his wartime efforts. This war rhetoric was of course what we remember of Churchill and his seizing of the day. But it’s important to understand that from the beginning of the war he realised that Europe could only win with the help of America.

His relationship with Korda was to prove more than useful in convincing them of our need and ultimately their gain. As war broke out Korda was charged with producing suitably rousing content to lure the Americans, he came up with Q Planes (1939) with Laurence Olivier and The Lion Has Wings (1939) and the blockbusting Four Feathers (1939). These movies created a feeling of national pride, but also delved into the bigger picture, giving a more global view.

This is a documentary more about what could have been. Korda bought the rights to seven of Churchill’s books but only one was actually produced Young Winston filmed by Richard Attenborough in 1971. John Fleet’s captivating documentary uses plenty of atmospheric archive material to convince the viewer of the bond between the two was genuine and in many ways what was missed had things turned out differently. It begs the question had there been no war, would Churchill have been one of cinema’s great screenwriters? This is a good film with relevance today, as we live in the world of full fake news and propaganda, it’s somehow heartening to realise that there’s nothing new about it, just the platforms it works from.


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