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The Gathering Storm (TV Movie 2002) - Plot Summary Poster

(2002 TV Movie)

Plot

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Summaries

  • Winston Churchill's wilderness years prior to World War II, when only he could see the threat that Adolf Hitler and a rearmed Germany posed to Europe.

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  • In the 1930s, Sir Winston Churchill (Albert Finney) was out of government, sitting as a backbench Member of Parliament. His was a lonely voice warning about German rearmament and the coming of a second major war on the continent. He lost a great deal of money in the Wall Street crash and now writes a biography of his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough, a newspaper column, and it's his only means of support. He has a close-knit group of supporters, not the least of whom is his wife Clementine (Vanessa Redgrave), who he loves very dearly. As he continues to press his concerns about Hitler, he is cast as a warmonger and frequently shouted down in Parliament by members on both sides of the aisle. With reliable information from a Foreign Office civil servant who feels the government is not accurately reporting on rearmament, he provides accurate figures to Parliament and the tide begins to turn. With the on-set of World War II in September 1939, Churchill returns to government as the First Lord of Admiralty.

  • 1934. Sir Winston Churchill (Albert Finney) appears to be in his twilight years. While he is still a Member of Parliament and a member of the ruling Conservative Party, he is not a member of the cabinet, and has no power. However, this does not stop him from speaking his mind and making grandiloquent speeches in Parliament. When he learns of Germany's rearmament and Hitler's bigoted social policies, he sets out, in Parliament, to warn his colleagues and Britain of the impending danger. The other Members of Parliament, used to his tirades, laugh him off. Britain, the spectre of World War I ever-present, is determined to follow a pacifist course and has not the inclination nor the economic means to engage in an arms race with Germany. Politically, Churchill is isolated.

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  • A love story offering an intimate look inside the marriage of Sir Winston Churchill (Albert Finney) and Clementine Churchill (Vanessa Redgrave) during a particularly troubled, though little-known, moment in their lives. In the years before World War II, Churchill found himself on the fringe of British politics: a lone voice crying out in the wilderness as he warned his country and the world of a Nazi threat. Together with Clementine, he had to confront the personal demons of depression, and the specter of insolvency, before he could reemerge as a reinvigorated political leader and hero.

  • Albert Finney offers an excellent presentation of Sir Winston Churchill in the years immediately before World War II. Facing a rising Nazi Germany, most of British Parliament chooses to look the other way in hopes of peace. Parliament even votes to send Germany airplane engines. Against the wisdom of the other party members, Churchill preaches against the Nazi threat. But the aspect of this movie that makes the story a standout is the personal relationship and love he had with his wife, Clementine (Vanessa Redgrave). Churchill's arrogance strains his family and personal relationships, including his wife. When she announces she wants to go on a trip, Churchill accuses her of being selfish, which ignites her. She goes on the trip, leaving Churchill with the worry that she will not return or has started a shipboard romance with an art dealer. Eventually she does return, and Churchill welcomes her with the same passion he has for his politics.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • The film opens in 1934 with Winston Churchill (Albert Finney) being driven through the lush forests and countryside of southeastern England by his son Randolph (Tom Hiddleston). Churchill steps out of the car, strides to the top of a tall hill and gazes out across a broad valley. He vividly imagines his famous ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, heroically leading a British army in battle on the verdant plains below.

    Returning to Chartwell, his Kentish estate, Churchill is in denial about the family's precarious finances. The upkeep on the estate and the maintenance of a sizable household staff are draining his bank account. The Wall Street crash of 1929 did serious damage to Churchill's investments. Accompanied by his wife Clementine (Vanessa Redgrave), Churchill is driven into London to speak to a half-empty Commons chamber at Parliament. He warns the few members present against allowing the loss of India, describing Mohandas Gandhi as a "seditious Middle Temple lawyer" and a "half-naked fakir." Churchill is in the political wilderness, unpopular with his more liberal colleagues who view him as an embarassing relic of a declining British Empire. Once the First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill now fears that his illustrious career, stretching back to the battle of Omdurman, is at an end. While Churchiill addresses Parliament, his wife secretly visits a London banker to discuss their finances and explore household economies.

    Churchill soon receives a visit from Desmond Morton (Jim Broadbent), an intelligence advisor to the British Foreign Office. Morton is greatly concerned about the massive military build-up in Germany, where 8,000 pilots are in training. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (Derek Jacobi) and the British people are in the grip of pacifism, being only twenty years removed from the Great War horrors of trench warfare. Morton begins to recruit Ralph (pronounced "Rafe") Wigram (Linus Roache), a fellow Foreign Office official, to quietly monitor the Nazi rearmament threat and secretly report to him and Churchill. Wigram and his wife Ava (Lena Headey) are raising a mentally-challenged son named Charley, to whom they are completely devoted. Wigram is well aware how the Nazis treat the disabled.

    Churchill continues to beat the drum in Parliament about German rearmament, but he is ridiculed, needing hard facts and figures to substantiate his claims. The British government is downplaying Nazi strength in order to keep the peace and in hopes of reaching an accommodation with Hitler. Wigram is worried about German intentions and approaches Morton for advice. Morton tells Wigram that he requires detailed (and therefore classified) information to bolster Churchill's efforts. Wigram nervously begins passing top secret Foreign Office documents to Morton, who passes them along to Churchill. Armed with the new information, Churchill addresses Parliament again and begins to gain traction.

    Wigram and his wife are subsequently invited to Chartwell for a visit. Wigram confesses his fear of being caught while helping Churchill, but he receives reassurance that his involvement will be kept in confidence. Upon returning to work, Wigram receives a blunt warning from Foreign Office Under-Secretary Robert Vansittart (Tom Wilkinson) that Churchill uses people for his own ends.

    Adding to Churchill's woes, Clementine soon announces that she is joining a family friend on a four-month expedition to Komodo Island. Churchill is appalled and accuses her of selfishness. A huge fight ensues, for which Churchill is forced to apologize. Nevertheless, she embarks on the lengthy trip and Churchill finds himself at loose ends. He forces himself to "keep buggering on." His constant hectoring about Germany has galvanized his enemies in the government, who now seek to force him from office. Churchill's uncanny command of German rearmament details and his friendship with Wigram has aroused suspicion. Ava Wigram receives a surprise visit from Baldwin henchman Ivo Pettifer (Hugh Bonneville), who threatens to reassign her husband to a remote posting, where the special care required for Charley would likely be unavailable. He wants her to pressure Ralph into discontinuing his collaboration with Churchill. Incensed at the crude blackmail attempt, Ava rebuffs him.

    Clementine's prolonged absence and frequent written references to Terrence Phillip, a wealthy and dashing art dealer who is with her on the expedition, worry Winston. He fears that she has fallen in love with the man. Although her affections were tested, she eventually returns to an elated Churchill.

    Wigram becomes increasingly despondent over Germany's march to war. He worries that his assistance to Churchill may have been a mistake, that perhaps appeasement was in fact the right course. As he prepares for a scheduled defense meeting, his secretary reluctantly informs him that his presence isn't required. He wasn't invited. When Ava and Charley return home that evening, they encounter a melancholy Ralph. The following morning, Ava awakens to a beautiful overnight snowfall and a beloved husband who has died during the night. At his funeral, a devastated Ava tells Churchill, "Ralph's life was very precious to me. Please tell me that it wasn't wasted." Churchill reassures her that she should be very proud of him. Ralph understood the dangers facing him and acted bravely in spite of them.

    The inexorable slide into the abyss continues. Churchill soon hears Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's ominous announcement that a state of war now exists between Great Britain and Nazi Germany. Churchill is summoned to London to join the War Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. He and Clemmie bid farewell to Chartwell to begin their new life in London. Before he exits the car to report at the Admiralty Office, he emotionally thanks Clemmie for being rash enough to marry him, for staying with him through the years, and for loving him in a way that he never thought he would be loved. Winston Churchill steps out and walks alone into the Admiralty, embarking on the fateful course that eight months later would elevate him to Prime Minister during the war years. He is informed that a signal has already gone out to the British fleet: "Winston is back."

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