In the course of preparing myself [to play Churchill in a biopic]… I realized afresh that I hate Churchill and all of his kind. I hate them virulently. They have stalked down the corridors of endless power all through history…. What man of sanity would say on hearing of the atrocities committed by the Japanese against British and Anzac prisoners of war, ‘We shall wipe them out, every one of them, men, women, and children. There shall not be a Japanese left on the face of the earth’? Such simple-minded cravings for revenge leave me with a horrified but reluctant awe for such single-minded and merciless ferocity.
– Richard Burton. (He got banned from the BBC for writing that. Which must’ve really burned him as he lounged around in Hollywood with Elisabeth Taylor’s head in his lap.)
In ‘Victory of the Daleks’ by Mark Gatiss, Winston Churchill is depicted as a wiley and cantankerous old fox, as a twinkly-eyed yet determined fighter against the Nazi menace, as a moral force, as an impish and roguish but unequivocally good man. This is very much the mainstream view of Churchill, in both ‘pop culture’ and in much of the trash that masquerades as history in our society.
Moreover, Churchill is an old mate of the Doctor’s. They go way back. In other words, he gets the endorsement of Our Hero, the narrative and moral locus of the series. Here is Gatiss’ reasoning:
I think in the end it came down to sort of printing the Churchill of legend, because Doctor Who is not the place, really, to examine those sorts of things, except wherever possible, as it were, in the gaps, in the shadows, you can suggest his pragmatism. So in this episode when the Doctor, despite the fact that the Doctor’s telling him that the Daleks are the worst thing in the entire universe, he thinks ‘I can end the war quicker, I can save lives’. So that sort of thing was interesting to play with. But I did, you know, it just isn’t the place to try and have those conversations, because it’s an adventure series.
This reminds me of a page at the BBC website about whether Churchill was “as good as we think?”. As ever, “we” is left undefined. The page lists Pros and Cons. The best Cons they can come up with are a couple of military blunders, the return to the gold standard and Yalta. In other words: was he as marvelous as “we” apparently all believe or did he sometimes make mistakes? The big one on the list is Yalta, so the worst thing he can be accused of is handing much of Europe over to the real evildoers. Pravda would have been proud of such framing.
(The Yalta thing seems especially unfair to Churchill. He assumed that Russia would renege on the agreed post-war frontiers of Europe and advocated ‘Operation Unthinkable’, a lunatic plan to launch an unprovoked attack upon Russia as early as July 1945, thus starting a new war against one of his own allies.)…