Finest Hour 170, Fall 2015
Review by David Freeman
Andrew Marr on Churchill: Blood, Sweat, and Oil Paint Directed by David Barrie, Executive Producer for Wavelength Films: Patrick McGrady. First broadcast by the BBC in August 2015
During the fiftieth anniversary year of Churchill’s death, the BBC continues to probe his legacy. Veteran British journalist Andrew Marr ventured to Chartwell to examine Churchill’s painting studio and tell the story of how “Britain’s greatest prime minister”—his words—took to painting as a pastime and how this sustained Churchill from then on.
Marr interviews Churchill’s granddaughters Celia Sandys and Emma Soames, who recall how serious their grandfather was about painting. The studio at Chartwell was every bit as out of bounds for the grandchildren as the study, so much did Churchill dislike being interrupted while working. Celia explains that her grandfather became completely absorbed in his canvas while painting and that the grandchildren learned not to disturb him at these times even though they knew their grandfather loved them dearly.
Also interviewed by Marr is Churchill painting authority David Coombs. They discuss how much time Churchill spent in the company of the great English painters of his era, such as William Orpen and John Lavery, and how immensely Churchill respected these artists, who in turn respected him because they understood how seriously he approached painting.
Marr describes himself as an amateur artist, while admitting he is not as good as Churchill, who at his best was a very good amateur painter indeed. Throughout the program Marr is seen making his own efforts at drawing or filling a canvas. He travels to Morocco and the south of France to visit Churchill’s favorite “paintatious” venues. Marr reveals that he has recently recovered from a major stroke and that painting for him, as it had been for Churchill during the First World War, was a way of recovering from adversity.
If at times Marr overdoes his descriptions of Churchill’s dark moods—especially his florid and faulty depiction of Churchill during the Wilderness Years—he redeems himself with his own passionate appreciation of the seriousness and humanity of Churchill’s life as a painter. Clearly Marr’s own personal trauma has led him to a very personal understanding of what painting meant to Churchill, and we come to understand that there is in fact more blood and sweat in Churchill’s oil painting than first meets the eye.
David Freeman is editor of Finest Hour.