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Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981) – DVD Review

Winston Churchill The Wilderness Years DVD cover


Written by: Ferdinand Fairfax, based on the biography by Martin Gilbert
Directed by: Ferdinand Fairfax
Starring: Robert Hardy, Siân Phillips, Eric Porter, Edward Woodward, Nigel Havers


  • Historical background
  • Churchill’s Special Relationship With America
  • Information on the On Location sites Chartwell, Blenheim Palace, Cliveden and Monument Valley AZ
  • Who’s Who
  • Cast Bios

Released by: Wellspring
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Buy it.

[ad#longpost]Everybody knows that Winston Churchill was the head burrito of England during World War II. Well, everybody worth even considering talking to. But what fewer people–at least on this side of the Pond–know, is that Churchill was pretty much in the political doghouse for a good stretch of time before his rise to power again in 1939. During that time he had financial difficulties, was politically cut off, and between a rock and a hard place for much of the time. He was also the one man yelling and carrying on about this guy Hitler, and how it was a really, really terrible idea to keep either pandering to or ignoring the madman instead of drawing a line in the sand. This eight hour mini-series chronicles the ten years, so rightly named in the title.

This…is an impressive way to spend eight hours. There are three reasons why this thing is so spot-on good. First, and this is pretty obvious from the get go, it’s very solidly written by also-director Fairfax. Even for those details I didn’t know to be accurate, they sure as hell felt accurate, and I come to find out this is due to Fairfax using Martin Gilbert’s biography as a well to draw from. Considering even the Churchillian sites I’ve found online praise the hell out of this book, I would think that would be a huge help to how real everything on screen feels.

Second, you’ve got Robert Hardy. Even before I did a little background reading on what Hardy did to prepare for the role, it seemed like he was bloody well channeling Churchill. Utterly believable–you forget you’re watching an actor doing his thing. It’s no wonder that he’s played Churchill twice more in films after this one–watching him work is just amazing. And the ending shot of the entire series is worth the price of admission. Third, you’ve got an impressive supporting cast as well. From Eric Porter as Chamberlain, who eventually seems to understand his shortcomings to Siân Phillips as Winston’s bride, they all inhabit the characters well and everyone feels authentic.

Robert Hardy in Winston Churchill The Wilderness Years

Extras are limited, with just a few text-on-screen bits about the cast and some of the locations where the show was shot. Considering the film and its accolades, it would have been nice to catch a featurette talking to the cast and crew involved. Maybe even one with some historians discussing the man himself, and perhaps a film-to-reality comparison, which are always nice. An episode specific commentary with Hardy and some others would have been priceless, and let’s hope somebody does that before time gets away from us.

This is a film that is worth owning for anybody on the strength of its cast and script alone, but Britophiles and history buffs will especially want to add it to their collection.

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