The Gathering Storm is a BBC–HBO co-produced television biographical film about Winston Churchill in the years just prior to World War II. The title of the film is that of the first volume of Churchill’s largely autobiographical six-volume history of the war, which covered the period from 1919 to 10 May 1940, the day he became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
The film stars Albert Finney as Churchill and Vanessa Redgrave as his wife Clementine Churchill (“Clemmie”); Finney gained many accolades for his performance, winning both a BAFTA Award for Best Actor and an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor. The film also features a supporting cast of British actors such as Derek Jacobi, Ronnie Barker, Jim Broadbent, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Linus Roache and Hugh Bonneville. Simon Williams and Edward Hardwicke both make brief appearances amongst the supporting cast.
The film was directed by Richard Loncraine and written by Hugh Whitemore. Larry Ramin and Whitemore won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing. Among the film’s executive producers were Ridley Scott and Tony Scott.
The film opens in 1934 with Winston Churchill deep in his wilderness years, and struggling to complete his biography of his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough, which he hopes will revive his fortunes. Winston is chided by his wife Clemmie for their lack of money and is aware that as a ‘man of destiny’ his moment may have passed. At the same time he struggles in the House of Commons as a backbencher to get a hearing for his concerns about German re-armament under Hitler and the policy of appeasement.
Churchill is also disappointed by the behaviour of his son Randolph Churchill, which leads to further arguments with Clemmie, who announces she is leaving to go on an extended overseas trip. Churchill is devastated and throws himself into his pet activities: painting, and building walls around the family house. Clemmie eventually returns, and the couple are reconciled.
During the same period, a young official in the government, Ralph Wigram (Linus Roache) has become concerned about the growth of the German Luftwaffe (air force), and is convinced by his wife to leak information about it to Churchill.
Shortly afterwards, Churchill uses Wigram’s information to launch an attack on Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (Derek Jacobi).
With Churchill’s fortunes restored, the narrative jumps forward to September 1939, with the declaration of war against Germany at the start of World War II, and the announcement that Churchill will be taking over command of the Royal Navy again as First Lord of the Admiralty. An impatient Churchill bids farewell to the staff at the country house, and travels to London. Arriving in the middle of the night at the Admiralty, Churchill is met by a Royal Marine corporal who informs him the fleet have already been signalled that “Winston is Back”, to which Churchill replies, “He bloody well is!”