Saturday, August 5, 2017

Hardy As Churchill

Further to my post of a couple of days ago about the passing of British actor Robert Hardy, some more interesting aspects of his life and career:

His tutors at Magdalene College, Oxford were CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien!

Entering the Royal Air Force late in World War II, he was sent to Texas to train as a fighter pilot.  The war ended before he was deployed.

He never had any training as an actor.

I ran across this edited clip of Hardy giving some of Churchill's famous speeches in the BBC series, The Wilderness Years, the period from the late 1920s to 1939 when Churchill was an outcast within his own Conservative Party, and mistrusted by the opposition.  I'd seen the series when it was broadcast in the U.S. (I think in the early 1980s) but had forgotten just how good Hardy was as Churchill.  It's the finest Churchill I've seen on screen.  Hardy captures everything about the man - his speech patterns, his gestures, the way he carried himself.

The clip is also interesting as a window onto Churchill.  His rhetoric was always formidable, but one of the reasons he ended up in the wilderness is that we could deploy recklessly, in forlorn and unworthy causes.  The first speech we see here is his opposition to any attempt by the British government to alter the existing arrangements under which India was part of the Empire.  On this issue, Churchill was simply wrong.

It was with the coming to power of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1933, that the man and his rhetoric were matched to the perfect issue.   Listen to excerpts from speeches in 1933 and 1934.  The '34 speech is on Germany's growing strength in the air.  Along with his main point, the need for Britain to maintain air superiority, two other aspects struck me.  The first was his perceptive point on the use of deterrence; the second his, in retrospect, overestimate on the damage enemy bombers could cause Britain.  In this, Churchill represented the conventional wisdom that "the bomber always gets through" and would inflict unthinkable and catastrophic damage in very short time.  The reality in the early years of the war was that however horrific the physical destruction and loss of life was during the Battle of Britain, it was only a small fraction of what had been projected, and the effect was not to destroy morale, but rather to strengthen it.

The excerpts close with Churchill's 1936 speech in the wake of German reoccupation of the Rhineland and his magnificent speech after Britain and France sold out Czechoslovakia at the Munich conference in the fall of 1938.  If you do nothing else, listen to that speech which starts about 18 minutes in to the video.

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