February 1, 2022

The Art of Being Winston Churchill: Cineaste

By Barry Singer

Early in the Second World War, when the moon was full and bright, Winston Churchill would spend weekends at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, which was thought to be a less invitingly visible target to German bombers than Chequers, the prime minister’s official retreat in Buckinghamshire. By 1942, however, enough had changed that Churchill spent more time at Chequers. During most of these visits from early 1942 until late 1944, feature films and Ministry of Information documentaries were screened for him by two ministry projectionists, who motored down on Friday afternoons in a car filled with canisters.

A devoted cineaste, Churchill had his favorites, including How Green Was My Valley and Stage Door, but his most beloved was Lady Hamilton (titled That Hamilton Woman in the United States), Alexander Korda’s new, lushly romantic, patriotic rendering of the love affair between Admiral Nelson and Emma Hamilton, starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.

Interestingly, Korda also functioned at this time as a shadowy, real-life agent for Churchill, a courier between Britain’s and America’s intelligence agencies—his New York office in the Empire State Building serving as a clearinghouse for intelligence information.

Barry Singer is proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City and author of Churchill Style (2012).

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