Monday 26 September 2016

Gambon's 'shock' at being offered Churchill role

Published 23/02/2016 | 00:06

Sir Michael Gambon portrays Churchill in his final years in office
Sir Michael Gambon portrays Churchill in his final years in office

Sir Michael Gambon has spoken of his "shock" at being asked to portray Sir Winston Churchill for forthcoming ITV drama Churchill's Secret.

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Centred around the former prime minister's final years in office, it depicts events as his health declined.

In the film, Lindsay Duncan plays Churchill's wife Clementine.

Directed by Charles Sturridge, who was at the helm of ITV's award-winning 1981 series Brideshead Revisited, Churchill's Secret was filmed at the statesman's country home of Chartwell in Kent.

In an interview with the Radio Times, Sir Michael said: "It was a shock when the director said, we want you to play Churchill.

"I thought, Oh Christ almighty. I know of him! I said I'd think about it."

Best known for his 1986 role as Philip Marlow in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, Sir Michael put in a memorable performance in the BBC's 2015 adaptation of JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy.

Churchill's Secret, which will also be broadcast on US network PBS, is set during the summer of 1953 when the then 78-year-old peace-time prime minister had a stroke, temporarily paralysing him.

However, Churchill ordered that only a select few should know about his illness. The public was not informed, and it was not disclosed to most of the government.

An adaptation of Jonathan Smith's novel KBO: the Churchill Secret - the KBO stands for 'keep buggering on' - which was Churchill's stance in the face of various difficulties.

Clementine wanted her husband of 45 years, father to their four children, to retire.

However, she assisted in the cover up.

"I think they were devoted to each other," said Duncan. "It was a profound relationship."

Churchill recovered under the care of a nursing team and his devoted wife.

Sir Michael, 75, also spoke about giving up work in the theatre because he was forgetting his lines.

"Me and Tom Hollander were rehearsing," he said. "Tom did his lines and I had someone in the corner speaking mine into a plug in my ear.

"The speed of talking, of walking around, it just wouldn't work," Gambon told the Radio Times. "We spent a morning doing it and it ended up a disaster. So I said to Tom, 'This isn't going to f****** work. We can't do this'."

Sir Michael can still perform some theatre, but screen projects offer the possibility of retakes.

Talking about how he got through the shooting of Churchill's Secret, the Bafta-award winning actor said: "I look at the director to see if he's happy and he gives me a few notes. That's how I get through it. It's the only way, isn't it?"

:: Churchill's Secret is broadcast on February 28 at 8pm on ITV.

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