10 Screen Portrayals of Winston Churchill | History Hit

10 Screen Portrayals of Winston Churchill


Teet Ottin

23 Nov 2022
Scene from 'Young Winston' (1972)
Image Credit: Fair use, Columbia Pictures

Only a handful of historical figures can rival the impact and fame of Winston Churchill. The bowler hat-wearing, cigar-smoking former Prime Minister has in many ways become a cultural icon of Great Britain. Overseeing the British war effort during World War Two, he lead the country during one of its most challenging ever periods. In the following decades he would regularly be depicted on the screen, either as a side character in war dramas or as the protagonist of his own life story.

Here are 10 key depictions of Winston Churchill on screen.

Young Winston (1972)

The biographical adventure drama directed by Richard Attenborough is based on Churchill’s 1930 book My Early Life. The film covers the former British Prime Minister’s youth, ranging from his unhappy school-years to his experiences as a war correspondent in the Second Boer War.

The 1972 production is noteworthy for its star studded cast, with Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins and Robert Shaw all appearing. Interestingly Simon Ward, a relatively unknown actor at that time, was chosen to portray Churchill. Young Winston was eventually nominated for three Academy Awards.

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981)

This drama series follows Churchill during his years in enforced exile from political position during the 1920s and 1930s. It focuses on his attempt to warn the wider political spectrum about the dangers of Nazi Germany and Britain’s appeasement policies.

Robert Hardy’s portrayal of the British icon gathered critical acclaim, earning him a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor in the process. To this day his version of Churchill is considered by many to be one of the best on screen, with him reprising the role on multiple occasions.

Screenshot of ‘Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years’ (1981)

Image Credit: Fair use

The Gathering Storm (2002)

This BBC and HBO co-production stars Albert Finney as Winston Churchill in the years prior to World War Two. The story begins in 1934, with the future Prime Minister deep into his ‘wilderness years’. Directed by Richard Loncraine, the script would eventually lead viewers to the British declaration of war against Germany and Churchill’s return to government.

Finney received multiple accolades for his depiction of Winston Churchill, winning both a BAFTA and Emmy Award. A sequel named Into the Storm was released in 2009, with Brendan Gleeson taking over the coveted role.

Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004)

This 2004 production is unlike any other on this list. The film is a satire on Hollywood and how it treats history, with Christian Slater’s portrayal of Churchill being equally absurd as it is irreverent. In the film he is depicted as a US Marine Corps lieutenant who stole the Enigma code and single handedly won a very alternative battle for Britain.

Horrible Histories (2009 – 2017)

Based on the bestselling book series, Horrible Histories was a live-action historical and musical sketch comedy television series. Even though it was designed as a children’s programme, it did not shy away from some of the dark and gruesome aspects of British and other Western world history.

Churchill, played by Jim Howick, would occasionally appear in World War Two themed sketches. As one may expect, the former British politician is played for laughs, while staying in large parts true to his real life character.

Screenshot from ‘Horrible Histories’

Image Credit: Fair use, Lion Television/Citrus Television

The King’s Speech (2010)

Directed by Tom Hooper, the historical drama focuses on King George VI and his speech therapist Lionel Logue. The late King famously ascended to the throne following the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, while struggling with a stutter. Winston Churchill, portrayed by Timothy Spall, appears as a supporting character.

The Crown (2016 – 2017)

The first season of the hit Netflix series began with the wedding of the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947. It followed the Queen’s ascension to the throne and the personal troubles taking place during that time. Churchill was the main character of couple of episodes, while featuring throughout the first season.

John Lithgow brought Churchill’s character to life, with a performance that earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. He would reprise the role for season two, though in a reduced capacity.

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Churchill’s Secret (2016)

Unlike most other depictions of the former Prime Minister, Churchill’s Secret is set after the Second World War, focusing on the repercussions of his 1953 stroke. Michael Gambon took on the ambitious task to portray Churchill, gathering critical praise in the process.

Darkest Hour (2017)

Widely considered to be one of Gary Oldman’s finest acting performances, the Darkest Hour follows Churchill’s early days as Prime Minister, showing his refusal to seek a peace treaty with Nazi Germany amid their advance into Western Europe. Oldman was widely considered to be a frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his stellar work. The film was nominated for six Oscar’s, with Oldman indeed receiving the ultimate honours.

Screenshot from ‘Darkest Hour’ (2017)

Image Credit: Fair use, Perfect World/Pictures Working Title Films

Churchill (2017)

Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, this 2017 drama focuses on an exhausted Churchill awaiting the D-Day landings in 1944. The British leader was depicted by Scottish actor Brian Cox, whose acting performance was seen to be superior to the overall movie.

Tags: Winston Churchill

Teet Ottin