ITV rolled out its mega Sunday Drama Churchill’s Secret last night but I cannot say I gave it the victory sign. A programme about a stroke sufferer albeit Winston Churchill is always going to struggle so it was starting at a disadvantage. As something of an aficionado of Churchill, I could think of better books such as James MacManus Sleep at Peace Tonight, the story of Harry Hopkins, the envoy of Roosevelt, visit to these shores at the height of the Blitz in January 1941 that would dramatise better.
It had a cast of stars numbering Sir Michael Gambon as Churchill, Bill Paterson as Lord Moran, Romai Garai as Nurse Millie and Lindsay Duncan as Clementine. None could be faulted though it was hard to imagine Clemmie with her nervous disposition taking such control. The problem was that seeing a man in stroke recovery struggling with his words and the attendant political crisis as Anthony Eden was recovering from a botched gallstone operation is ever going to engage a Sunday tv audience. Further we were at the end of Churchill’s career with doubts that because of his age and character he can lead the country as peace time Prime Minister as capably as he did during the war. We are reaching saturation point. Off the top of my head I can think of Albert Finney, Timothy West, Robert Hardy all playing the Great Man and worthy and eminent actor as he is, I had difficulty in visualising Sir Michael Gambon as the ageing political figure. The dramatic core was the decision to withhold the medical news from the public and the collusion of Fleet Street masterminded by Beaverbrook. I had the feeling that this was an attempt as botched as Eden’s operation to find something new about Churchill.
I switched over at 9 to The Night Manager. Its lush locations soon did engage me, this time the luxurious villa in Mallorca of the amoral arms dealer Roper beautifully played by of all people Hugh Laurie as a cold hearted public school Englishman in the style of Edward Fox. Amanda Colman balanced this well as the gritty northerner MI6 controller of Jonathan Pine. There is detachment about Tom Hiddleston which makes his transition to espionage slightly hard to believe. The plot works backwards and lacked the tempo of the first episode. It was nonetheless sufficiently enthralling for me to book 9 pm every Sunday. When a series is good I avoid catch up as you know others will be talking of it come Monday. However it must confuse those of us weaned on Jictar and ratings as catch up tv must impact on audience figures. To confuse it more do viewers like me fast forward through adverts? Mind you ITV have made record profits and as Bob Tickler put it, when I asked him what he did during the adverts, he replied:
“work out the profits on my shares.”