Last Night's Television - The Great Escape: The Reckoning, Channel 4; Into the Storm, BBC2

Close but no cigar

The challenge confronting viewers of
Into the Storm, a dramatised account of Winston Churchill's defeat in the 1945 general election, told as a series of flashbacks to some momentous episodes of the Second World War, was largely the same as the challenge to the actors. It was to avoid getting bogged down in the accuracy, or otherwise, of the looks and voices of the main players.

Sadly, it was a challenge that this viewer failed to meet. Bill Paterson is a splendid actor, but as Clement Attlee he made a marvellous Captain Mainwaring. And in trying to suppress those Glaswegian vowels, he gave every indication of suffering from trapped wind. As for the main man, Brendan Gleeson's Churchill impersonation was pretty good for a fellow who in real life speaks with a velvety Dublin brogue, but he'd have been better cast as Churchill in the early 1930s. In 1945, Churchill was a jowly 70. Gleeson is a cherubic 54.

That shouldn't matter, of course. The quality of the acting and Hugh Whitemore's writing should have overcome such trivialities as the leading man's age, yet they didn't, quite. In my case, this was partly because I so admired Albert Finney's Churchill in The Gathering Storm, to which this was a sequel. Finney was not only much closer to Churchill's age, he also, by deliberately eschewing a precise impersonation, fully captured the Churchillian charm and charisma. Gleeson got the nuances of voice and body language right, yet fully captured only the irascibility.

As the great man's devoted but quietly spirited wife, Clementine, Janet McTeer also had a hard act to follow. Vanessa Redgrave played Clemmie in The Gathering Storm, and I was lucky enough to spend an engrossing couple of hours with her in her Chiswick garden, shortly before the thing was transmitted in 2002. She explained that she'd received numerous tips from the Churchills' daughter, Mary Soames. "She said, 'Please, please don't let the hair people make your hair look impeccable, because my mother always did hers herself.' Which tells one something about the person, don't you think?"

With this in mind, I kept a beady eye on McTeer's hair, and concluded that she had probably talked to Soames too, or to Redgrave. At any rate, she made a fine, gracious Clemmie, so fine and gracious that one repeatedly felt that she didn't deserve to be married to such a self-absorbed grump, which possibly wasn't the message Whitemore wanted to convey. Still, Churchill had every reason to be grumpy in 1945, as the British people forsook him at the polling stations. On the other hand, he was partly the architect of his own crushing defeat, not least by likening Attlee's Labour Party, in a radio broadcast, to the Gestapo. Clemmie read the speech beforehand and begged him not to, but he was characteristically resolute, the stubbornness that had served him so well in war backfiring on him in peace.

The actual Gestapo loomed large in The Great Escape: the Reckoning, a terrific documentary about the largely successful post-war effort to find and punish the Nazis responsible for the cold-blooded execution of 50 of the 76 Allied airmen who in March 1944 tunnelled out of Stalag Luft III and into wartime and indeed cinematic legend. A special unit was set up by the RAF to find them, headed by Frank McKenna, who'd spent 17 years in the Blackpool police. If there was one flaw in this otherwise absorbing programme, it was that it didn't adequately explain why McKenna got the brief. What crimes had he solved on the North Pier, for heaven's sake, that suggested he would pursue the task with such forensic zeal?

Whatever, McKenna found most of the killers, and the documentary confirmed that the popular 1963 film took huge liberties with the truth. The 50 weren't machine-gunned together, for example, but shot in ones and twos. However, it was strangely reassuring to find that some of the film's most striking sequences were based on fact. I have never fully believed that Gordon Jackson could have been so silly as to respond in English to a suspicious German officer wishing him luck. Yet that was precisely the fatal error of a Frenchman called Bernard Scheidhauer, on whom Jackson's character was partly modelled.

The Gestapo man who subsequently shot Scheidhauer and Roger Bushell (the mastermind of the escape, portrayed in the film by Richard Attenborough) was called Emil Schulz, and he was hanged in 1948. Memorably, this programme contained an interview with his daughter, Ingeborg, now an attractive pensioner, who remembered Schulz as a loving father, and tearfully insisted that he'd had no option but to obey an order that had come directly from Hitler. The "only obeying orders" line usually gets short shrift when offered in defence of Nazi atrocities, but here it was hard to disregard. And one of the surviving escapers, Paul Royle, offered a historical perspective that was similarly poignant. "Looking back on it now that we and the Germans are such great mates, it all seems so stupid," he said. Gleeson's Churchill, who remarked that he felt "very lonely" without a war, would doubtless disagree.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot