Monday, 2 November 2009


I can't believe that TV has dumbed down to this level, but watching the credits for Into The Storm, the HBO/BBC sequel to The Gathering Storm, I noticed that Len Cariou was listed as playing 'Franklin J Roosevelt'. I was so stunned I wasn't sure I'd got it right, but I've since checked it on BBC Iplayer, and I'm still stunned; this seems the kind of mistake that would have been caught when the film played on HBO, unless the BBC made their own credits for their transmission and no one bothered to check (in the programme itself, Churchill et al do get Roosevelt's name is correct, albeit pronounced De-LAHN-oh, in the British fashion, rather than DELL-an-oh, and Roos-e-velt rather than Rose-uh-velt, as Americans do).

The film itself was rather like a made-for-TV version of a movie, rather than a sequel, but The Gathering Storm really was first-rate. In this one, Brendan Gleeson lacks the bombast of Albert Finney, but is most impressive as Churchill as he tires, and declines. Janet McTeer is rather too nuturing as Clementine; scripter Thaddeus O'Sullivan gives her a moment to assert herself, but it's far too late, and seems to be merely an attempt to recapture some of Vanessa Redgrave's more equal footing.

But the bigger problem is that the details of the story are more well known, and the script must touch all the bases, though sometimes in such an offhand way that, for example, Bomber Harris becomes a figure of some fun, and moral doubts about him are erased with a too-superficial ease. In such a situation, speeding through the set-pieces of history, the flashback structure (the Churchills vacationing in France while awaiting the results of the general election that rejected him in favour of Labour and Atlee) is a hindrance. Some of the set-pieces are quite moving, especially when they show the hidden side of Churchill, as when he presents an airman with the Victoria Cross, or in his touching 'friendship' with King George VI (a nice performance by Iain Glen), while others are, well, set pieces, particularly when Stalin (Aleksi Petrenko in a bad moustache) is involved (oddly, Stalin is used to provide comic relief). I'm also a little wary of the ending, which, in best show-business fashion, seems to imply getting an ovation in a theatre is the greatest accolade a man could hope for, though again, it is based on a real event.

Bill Patterson makes a good Clement Atlee, Patrick Malahide a suitably insufferable Monty, and Donald Sumter has a remarkably intense couple of scenes as Lord Halifax--the establishment's alternative to Churchill and the Tory most willing to make a deal with Hitler. Cariou probably falls somewhere in the middle of screen FDR's, but it's very hard to get a handle on what his character is, as the script uses him much like it does Stalin, with his wheelchair serving as the moustache, first as comedy and second to reflect the greater man's glory. But then, I suppose that's what you'd expect from the BBC and FJR.

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