Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by: Charity Bishop
The Gathering Storm has a good premise but fails on several levels. It focuses more on Churchill prior to the war and his relationship with his wife than the events surrounding his rise to Prime Minister. Maybe that's why it seems incomplete. Viewers want to know about the political power struggle, not family quibbles. The Churchill family are very well known and respected in London, but Winston's powers at Parliament are failing. His suspicions against Adolf Hitler and the actions of Germany are unfavorable with his party and the current Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, wants him to shut up. Few people come to hear his speeches, which he improvises and practices all hours of the day and night. While at home he's singularly irritable and short-tempered due to his uselessness in the public face. His charming wife Clemmie also fears for their financial status. Winston has run up large debts and continues to live above his means. But her attempts to tighten the purse strings are not met favorably.
Winston's suspicions against Hitler may not be so off-base after all. An agent of governmental security, Ralph Wigram, has been noticing irregularities in their files... England is selling Germany airplane motors, among other things, which remain unaccounted for. With very little modification these parts could be assembled into fighter planes. Encouraged by a fellow political pawn to share this information with Churchill, Wigram begins 'borrowing' governmental papers and passing them on. But this severely jeopardizes his position. He has a beautiful young wife and a handicapped child to care for. Suddenly Winston Churchill has true facts with which to build up his arguments. The Prime minister is shocked. Where does he get his information? The cabinet is divided... perhaps they have underestimated Germany. Those on top are putting pressure on the lower ranks... Wigram is under suspicion, but Winston tells him to 'keep buggaring on!'
In the meantime, Clemmie has taken a three-month ocean voyage in the company of various explorers to look for kimono dragons, and their once tightly-nit family is falling to pieces. Their daughter wants to be a stage dancer and has fallen for an actor. Their son has condemned his father's political advantages and stormed from the house. And above all looms Wigram's precarious position. Politics, historical figures, and wartime have always fascinated me. In that general direction of thought, The Gathering Storm is very informative. I learned a great deal about English policies and the power struggle against whether to take out Hitler or to 'contain' him and continue with business as usual. Even after news comes he's been 'exterminating' the Jews, Britain is slow to take action. I found the darker element of politics interesting as well... what you never hear of and normally don't see... the blackmail, the back-stabbing, the insults. The greedy struggle of man to retain the upper hand and crush those in their path. At one point, a member of the Prime Minister's circle of friends visits Mrs. Wigram and makes a veiled threat which involves her handicapped son.
If it weren't for the nudity and brief crude, harsh language, I would recommend the movie merely as a study of Winston Churchill and power struggles. But sadly HBO has thrown in some elements to demean Winston as much as they praise him. Like his slovenly habits, usual trait of sleeping in the nude, and his disregard for work ethics. It's pretty disgusting to see a fat old man's bare backside from under the bed as he ambles off to the urinal in the bathroom. He takes several baths (the soapy water blocks any nudity) and once nearly drops his drawers in front of his secretary (an absent-minded flaw rather than provocative). Some dancers are seen in semi-scanty outfits on stage. One of Winston's favorite terms was KBO -- 'Keep Buggaring On.' This phrase, along with bloody and blighter, pop up numerous times in the dialogue, along with general profanity and mild abuse of deity. I believe there's one abuse of Jesus' name. The f-word is used crudely to punctuate a poem Winston quotes at one point.
There's no violence except for a 17th century battle shown in a dream and a woman throwing a stack of plates across the room. A man is found dead in the bathroom, the victim of a heart attack. Several times men are seen standing in front of urinals. On the up side, the performances are wonderful, the music is decent, and the film has a very romantic, painting-like quality to it. Too bad the flaws overrule the values.