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“What scares me the most is getting to the end before I’ve finished.” These are the words of Winston Churchill, to his nurse, Millie Appleyard, as he struggles to recover from a series of debilitating strokes. With it, he touches upon the fears of a great many people, as they get a look at their own mortality.
The year is 1953. The cold war is heating up, and Winston Churchill, back in office as Prime Minister of Great Britain, sees as his legacy the task of ending it. With this as a goal, he’s scheduled a conference in Bermuda between the US, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, styled after the Malta conference that helped end World War 2. He’s due to leave in a couple of days, hosting the Italian Ambassador at Downing Street, when he loses the ability to speak coherently, and collapses.
What follows in the story of a man, a government, and a family in crisis. How to keep this a secret from the press, how to provide for a continuity of government with Churchill gravely ill and the foreign secretary in the hospital, how does an estranged family come together to support its problematic patriarch in his time of need.
Churchill’s Secret ably tells this story, switching back and forth between dramas of politics and family. It focuses of the relationship between Churchill and his wife, Clementine, as well as that of Millie Appleyard, the young nurse who’s whisked away from her regular life to care for the prime minister.
Michael Gambon, Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame, plays Churchill as a man come undone, who has to pull himself back together. Lindsey Duncan, formerly of Rome and Doctor Who, plays Lady Churchill. Churchill’s Secret is based on the book The Churchill Secret by Jonathan Smith, adapted by Stewart Harcourt.
Anyone who has stood beside a close family member in a health crisis will find a great deal to relate to in this drama. Anyone who’s weathered such a storm will draw inspiration from the story of a man reduced to almost nothing, clawing his way back to his former capabilities. It is a story of hope, and of the sacrifices we make to keep going.
Churchil’s Secret airs on Masterpiece Sunday, September 11th at 8:00 p.m. of KIXE Channal 9.