Moving and lavish TV drama captures the perils and joys of living with the Greatest Briton
Imagine living in the presence of greatness. Not transitory greatness or celebrity nonsense but epoch-making greatness. That was the burden of the family of Winston Churchill, the circling moons to his great gas giant.
At one point in the lavish, moving Churchill’s Secret (ITV) , Randolph, (Matthew Macfadyen), the alcoholic loser son, wished the bed-ridden old coot dead. It would be easier that way.
He adored, worshipped and resented the grand old man in equal measure and he, like sisters Diana, Sarah and Mary, could never really make a full life for themselves because they could never square that particular circle.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Winnie himself – 78, enfeebled and close to death after a stroke in 1953 – only had one response to old age, his most implacable foe – KBO (keep buggering on).
When he made a pledge to his wife Clemmie (regal Lindsay Duncan) that if he wasn’t well by the Conservative Party conference he would concede to her wishes and retire, you could see that devious mind whirring again. The deal had the appearance of compromise but the meat of a challenge.
Michael Gambon captured the “inconquerable soul” of the great man perfectly – or we can but hope. A mewling baby, an indulgent pup, a lovable brute – but with enough of the bulldog to make spirits soar.
Meanwhile, Clemmie was resigned to her melancholy and condemned to adore the flawed genius like the rest of the world.
She saw her broken brood and recognised their dilemma. She, too, had surrendered everything to the great man and was no more able to resist his charms or chide his tantrums than they were.
“Growing old is not for cowards,” the war-weary Churchill tells his nurse (Romola Garai) who is compelled to love him like everyone else. “It’s such a strange thing to happen to a little boy.”
He lived another 12 years.