This black-and-white documentary about Winston Churchill is not a biography of his personal life.  It centers mostly on his tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the early years of World War II, in 1940 and 1941.  Churchill succeeded Neville Chamberlain when Chamberlain’s policies became unpopular with the English people.  The film is narrated by English actor Ben Kingsley.

                         Winston ChurchillCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                         Winston Churchill - Wikimedia

Europe at that time was engaged in a struggle with Germany through the efforts of the German Chancellor, Adolph Hitler, who also was the leader of the Nazi party.  Winston Churchill was aware that Hitler was anti-semitic, and warned his people of the impending danger, which initially fell on deaf ears.  He did not want Britain to be involved with the war in Europe, which was also the thinking of the American Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy who thought that Britain would be defeated by Germany easily.

The British Expeditionary Force, along with French and Belgian troops, was stationed in Dunkirk, France and became surrounded by the German army. The evacuation of the BEF was aided by small private English crafts and fishing boats volunteered by their owners.  A total of 860 ships participated in the rescue, of which 240 were sunk.  The evacuation succeeded and was completed on June 4th.  Churchill’s speech concerning the event called it a rescue that was unprecedented in military history.  The soldiers were welcomed home.  The German General Franz Halder was angered that his troops allowed the British to escape.

Once Holland fell to the Nazis, and then Paris, Winston Churchill was the lone world leader who dared to stand up to Hitler and the Nazis.  He stated “What happened in Belgium and France was a disaster.  We will defend our island.  We shall never surrender.”

Germany had not yet attempted to invade England, and its citizens wondered why.  He delayed his decision after listening to his henchman Hermann Goering, who felt that they had to obliterate the Royal Air Force (RAF) first.  Thus began “The Attack of the Eagles” by which the German Luftwaffe inflicted serious damage on factories as well as aircraft. 


Franklin D. RooseveltCredit: Wikimedia

                                                President Franklin D. Roosevelt - Wikimedia

At that time, Churchill contacted President Roosevelt and begged for planes and ammunition to fend off the enemy.  Many American pilots fought in the RAF.  A Gallop poll at that time showed that 70% of those polled wanted a military draft.  At #10 Downing Street, Churchill enlisted the support of Neville Chamberlain, whom he respected.  They both agreed that the support of the United States was crucial, particularly since Italy joined Germany in the war.  Churchill’s famous words at that time were: “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat and tears.”  The Lend-Lease Act was passed by the United States in March 1941.

When the German army marched into Paris, songwriter Jerome Kern penned the popular song “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” which commemorated this event.

Nightly German raids on London were termed “The Blitz,” as the Luftwaffe bombed areas of London indiscriminately. Entertainment venues, nightclubs and theatres remained open, where people stayed rather than scramble to air raid shelters.  A legendary tale is told that singer Vera Lynn continued her nightclub performance of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” during a heavy German air raid.  The RAF responded with attacks on Berlin with Spitfires and Hurricanes.  Most of their pilots were young men in their teens and early twenties.  Churchill’s words rang out again at that time:  “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

When Germany invaded Soviet Russia under Operation Barbarossa, whose intent was to decimate the Jewish population there, Churchill spoke out “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”                                                                                     

We all know the results of this trying time.  David Ben-Gurion, the future Prime Minister of Israel, said: “If not for Churchill, England would have gone down.”  Churchill conceded that U.S. aid was the only thing that made an Allied victory over Hitler possible.

This excellent presentation brought back memories to me, a child of the depression and World War II.  It should be made available to young people who are unaware of the sacrifices that were made to insure their freedom when the world was in turmoil in the 1930’s and 1940’s.


Churchill: A Life
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(price as of Jul 21, 2016)
You may want to know more about Winston Churchill's life, written by his Biographer, Martin Gilbert.