Just having seen ‘Darkest Hour’ and recently having watched ‘The Crown’, I was struck by how much of an issue the producers make of Churchill’s alcohol intake. In almost every shot the man has something alcoholic in his hand and often to the shock and dismay of his companions such as King George V.
When I was a drinker, seeing such a great man supposedly being able to run the country during such perilous times whilst being permanently sozzled would have filled me with hope and encouragement to ‘Keep drinking on!’ as he might have said. And this got me thinking, and exploring on google..
First of all, if he did walk around in an alcoholic fug, surely he could have made far better decisions had he been sober. Certainly, he is renowned for having made many mistakes in his life, and many of those led to a great many others dying as a consequence such as at Gallipoli (although Churchill’s sole responsibility for this debacle cannot be assumed.) He also looks far older in the films and in pictures taken at the time than a man in his early sixties, and far less fit, but then he had a huge amount of stress to cope with and that wasn’t helped by the personal debts he was running up through spending such massive sums on extravagantly expensive champagne.
Once again, the old alcoholic me would have happily accepted the fact that he needed alcohol to help cope with all that wartime stress - I certainly had the mistaken belief that alcohol is a stress reducer. I of course now know differently and in watching these films I now know how much more effective a leader Churchill could have been had he left the bottle alone. It also makes me wonder how many current Ministers and MP’s resort to the bottle to ‘help cope with their jobs’, whereas the truth is the opposite.
Winston did of course live to a great age and whether he really did drink and smoke as much as the films portray is in doubt. Some medical reports state that most of his drink was water merely tainted with whiskey or wine and that most of his cigars went unsmoked and merely chewed. Being such a great showman, I can readily believe Winston kept up his drinking and smoking charade merely for affect and as part of his marketing/spin.
Where his drinking did have a personal effect is on his son Randolph. Randolph also became an MP but using his dad as an example smoked and drank for real, becoming hopelessly debilitated through both these habits in his early fifties and dying aged fifty-seven, the age I expected to live to when I was still drinking. Randolph is portrayed as a young man knocking back the booze in Darkest Hour.
So now, when I watch films such as these from my perspective of having ‘been there and done that’ but now living a completely sober life, I feel sad for the characters involved. I feel sad to see a great man beholden to a drug that is affecting him and so many others around him, that was and is the cause of so much embarrassment and shame to all concerned, and that sadly is still being allowed to affect and impact the lives of so many people today.
If I had my own 'Churchillian' slogan it would have to be ‘Keep Sobering On!’