Archives for posts with tag: documentary

Well, this certainly represents a swing back in the conventional wisdom about Winston Churchill. I, at least, was taught that he was a dangerous hothead who was responsible for the pointless slaughter of thousands of Dominion soldiers, and, while he did turn out to be right about the Nazi menace and was a splendid wartime PM, skepticism about his opinion of the German re-armament in the 30s was reasonable because of his past track record of war-mongering bloodlust.

In this, we learn that until Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, Churchill was rather hoping they wouldn’t, that he loved his wife very much and she him, that he was an admirable battalion commander when he was sacked and sent to the trenches, and that he was largely responsible for the development and effective use of basically every kind of mechanized weaponry or transport. Even the end-tag observes in an adulatory way that whatever setbacks he encountered in the Great War merely meant that he was able with energy and experience to face the challenges of WWII.

To be sure, this documentary addresses his arrogance and ability to put people off, but only to counteract that with tales of his surprising efficacy as a fairly junior officer, or his stellar efforts in reforming munitions factories, or a tender note to his wife when she writes rather worriedly. Even Gallipoli, the bugbear of his life, passes by in a couple grainy photos of presumably antipodean troops looking slightly nonplussed. The number of Allied dead in that catastrophe is mentioned some minutes later, when the narrative has largely moved on. Of course, this isn’t a film about the Dardanelles campaign, but, when you speak of Churchill’s WWI, it should perhaps loom a little bit larger. You could leave out the bit where your (much too handsome) actor, in his natty Glengarry cap, impresses his Scots fusiliers by standing on the firing step of his trench without a thought for his own safety.

The interviewees are an interesting bunch–a few professors of history, of course, but also some amazing war technology boffins, as well as a former officer in the Grenadiers, who had incisive remarks about Churchill’s time at the front. It was intriguing to see the range of ways of speaking that they had.


  • Churchill’s French shrapnel helmet might be my new favorite thing.
  • Look at photos of David Lloyd-George in 1914 and then in 1918. Oof.
  • Blenheim Palace seems nice. Also, I hope you like looking at paintings of the first Duke of Marlborough.

Director: Adam Kemp
Rating: NR
Length: 94 min.
Score: 3/5.

Again, BBC miniseries, and narrated by Tamsin Greig, so, hooray, Tamsin Greig! This one is a documentary, and as documentaries go it’s fine, although it has one glaring problem.

It purports to tell you about how the childhoods and childhood rivalries of the King, the Kaiser, and the Czar were largely responsible for the Great War. That’s how it opens. How it closes, however, is with a shrug. “This would almost certainly have happened anyway,” it seems to say, “and maybe it wouldn’t have if the Kaiser hadn’t been so unloved and so unlovable. But he was, and a bunch of other things were also going on, so Europe definitely blew up.”

If you’re looking to be enlightened, then, don’t bother. If, on the other hand, you are looking for royal home videos or photos of the Romanov children with the Kaiser on holiday and wearing mutinous expressions, you’re in luck.


  • An extremely sad observation is made: if Czar Nicholas II had been king of England, he might have been all right. He was an admirable family man and disliked politics, and he looked good in naval uniform. His autocratic tendencies would have been irrelevant. Instead, of course, he was Czar of Russia, and ended up murdered in a basement by drunken Bolsheviks.
  • The Kaiser experimented endlessly with mustache curvature. Not one experiment was successful.

Director: Richard Sanders
Rating: NR?
Length: 122 min.
Score: 2/5. Some nice archival work; not much else.