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Churchill and Alexander Korda
John Fleet speaks on Churchill and Alexander Korda at Hillsdale College’s fourth event of the Center for Constructive Alternatives in the 2018-2019 school year: “Churchill and the Movies.” His forthcoming film, “Churchill and the Movie Mogul,” addresses an obscure part of Winston Churchill’s career: his work as a movie scriptwriter. Unlike so many current films reviewed on this website, we were struck by Mr. Fleet’s attention to accuracy and to primary sources. We watched the film with appreciation. For the trailer, click here.
[Original transcript: Below is Mr. Fleet’s original text, which includes added details on scriptwriting for films on Lawrence of Arabia and Air Power.]
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for welcoming me so warmly to to this wonderful college to talk about a subject, which is very close to my heart, and on which I have just completed a film.
The subject is the relationship between Winston Churchill and Alexander Korda. Two men from vastly different backgrounds came together at a very important time. In their own unique way, they helped to shape evens in Second World War and subsequent history.
One was an Anglo-American war leader, politician, painter and screenwriter. The other was a Hungarian-born British film producer and director and champion of Britain in his own way.
Some of you will have watched this afternoon That Hamilton Woman, which was a film made by Alexander Korda on the urging of Winston Churchill to propagandise an isolationist America. That film is significant because it represents the flowering of a relationship, the seeds of which were sown in Churchill’s wilderness years in the 1930s.
A Meeting in the Wilderness
The story begins in early 1934, when Churchill’s son, Randolph, introduces them in a pub near the Isleworth film studios. Churchill was at that time deeply unpopular and a divisive figure. He had begun a crusade to raise awareness of the threat of Nazi Germany. Hitler had only months earlier become supreme leader of Germany, the Führer.
The predominant mood of the day was however for appeasement, and to stay out of Europe’s problems. This was a lot to do with the horrors of the First World War—or “the war to end war,” as it had become known, and this sentiment was whole-heartedly endorsed in America.
But for Churchill, staying out of international affairs ran contrary his fundamental understanding of history—and more specifically British history and the role the Britain and its Empire had played throughout the centuries.
Whilst in his wilderness years, he was writing a biography of his ancestor, the First Duke of Marlborough. This vast four-volume work chronicles an attempt by this great military leader to coral an alliance to contain an aggressive European dictator, who in this case was Louis XIV. So, there was a contemporary message to the book.
The problem Churchill had was that it initially flopped in America. No one during the Depression was going to spend large amounts of money on a book about a founding father of the British Empire. So, he got pretty bad reviews and poor sales.
Korda, on the other hand, had just become front page news across the world. His film, The Private Life of Henry VIII, was the most spectacular film Britain had ever made and it was a huge hit in America, which many people thought was impossible.
It had a record-breaking run at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Sound had just come in and people realised that British accent was not as incomprehensible as many had thought. Cinema was now without doubt “the” mass medium. So, Korda in a sense was arguably a far more powerful cultural influencer than Churchill at this point.
The two men meet and Korda signs Churchill up, as screenwriter, producer and advisor.
Korda and Churchill
You might ask though, why should these two men be brought together?
Well, first and foremost, they shared love of history, and more importantly the parallels that can be drawn from it. The Private Life of Henry VIII was a comedy film but it didn’t miss an opportunity to make a contemporary parallel.
In one scene, King Henry VIII turns to his advisor, Thomas Cromwell, and says that “if those French and Germans don’t stop cutting each other’s throats what’s to stop ‘em cutting ours…”. This scene would have taken place in about 1530, and a time when Germany didn’t technically exist at the time of Henry VIII shows that Korda was more concerned with the parallel than with historical accuracy.
Henry goes on to say that what England needs to be doing is building “ships, ships and more ships…”, which was precisely what the British government was not doing at the time.
When Churchill saw the film he wrote to Korda and said how impressed he was with it, but he did have one piece of crucial criticism. Henry is depicted as an overweight figure with rather baroque table manners. You often see him him throwing chicken bones over his shoulders.
Churchill cautioned Korda, “My criticism would be—a bit less chicken-bone chewing and a little more England-building.” It’s this idea of “England-building” that I would like to talk to you about this evening.
Now, you may ask—but what was a Hungarian immigrant doing making England-building films?
Well, some explanation for that is perhaps found in his early life. First of all, Korda’s actual name was Sandor Kellner. He was the son of a Jewish farm manager from rural Hungary. His upbringing was initially one of relative security under the Austro-Hungarian Empire—which was a golden age really, of theatre, poetry and literature. But then it all came crashing down after the defeat of the First World War.
Hungary saw two revolutions in one year. The first was a communist coup led by Béla Kun, who was Jewish – and who employed Korda to run the film department for a while, even though he was certainly not of communist persuasion.
Béla Kun was then violently overthrown by Admiral Horthy, who was in a sense the first fascist dictator of Europe, and violently anti-semitic.
Korda was imprisoned as a prominent Jewish film producer, and it was only thanks to the efforts of his wife, Maria, who was a very famous silent movie star, that he was able to escape as she charmed the prison guards.
They left the country and Korda became a political refugee. They had a brief spell in Hollywood and then came to Britain. Korda left Hollywood because he wanted to be his own boss and in Hollywood you had to follow orders.
So, when they met, I think it was this idea that Britain was a place of relative stability for Korda, in comparison to Hungary, and that a strong Britain, for Korda, was going to be vital to the shaping of events in Europe as the decade moves on.
The Reign of George V
The first signifiant project that Korda asks Churchill to work on is a documentary-drama about the last twenty-five years of the reign of the monarch, George V, to coincide with his upcoming jubilee celebration.
Churchill thought this was fantastic and he said to Korda, “I will side-track everything else.” He was already very far behind on the next volume of his biography of Marlborough at that stage.
But Churchill saw this film as an opportunity to deliver, what he described as a “serious, massive appreciation of England and her Empire.” And within a week or ten days, he had written an epic screenplay.
I must preface this by saying that the film, sadly, was never made, but I would like to take a moment just to explore its underlying politics, which I think are very revealing. The script is separated into three parts.
Part 1 : Faction
Part 2 : War
Part 3 : Survival
The war he is referring to is of course the First World War, and the focus of the script is essentially the drama of that conflict and the role that the British Empire played in securing victory both in terms of its actions—but also symbolically.
The film opens with the Coronation in 1910, which Churchill describes with great fanfare. He’s quick to point out that this great spectacle of the Coronation charmed the rest of the Empire and imagines a scene in Canada where a family is reading about the Coronation.
A young man turns to his parents and says “it’s a big show they have over there. It’s odd to think it belongs to us and we belong to it”. This is the picture of the Empire that Churchill wants to paint. It’s one of tremendous reach but also solidarity. However, he does accept that there is a problem at the heart of it.
Voice-to-camera, he planned to say, “Gone were the days of Elizabeth, of King William, of Marlborough… all that remained was a weak, degenerate, undisciplined, self-indulgent people, whose past achievements had left them at the nominal centre of an Empire so loosely-knit that it would fall to pieces at a blow.” But then, as he says “a crisis came…” and Europe is plunged into war.
Britain was left unprepared—and in a further parallel to the 1930s and the disarmament movement. He reminds people how in 1907, Britain had agreed with Germany that they would reduce the number of battleships under construction. Britain kept its promise and Germany didn’t, which was precisely what was happening again at the time Churchill was writing this screenplay.
Churchill now shows how Empire springs into action. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South-Africa all send troops immediately. There is a line where a clerk in the Colonial Office says “When the King is at war, the whole Empire is at war… it’s automatic”.
Churchill also imagines a scene involving the King of Greece talking to his army commander, and his prime minister, Venizelos. They’re debating whether or not Britain can win the war and whether they should help or if in fact Germany is invincible.
The King is sceptical but Venizelos tells him that the whole Empire is marching. The King says, well, “England rules the waves but this war will be fought on land,” to which Venizelos says, “Ah, but she will find time to build an army. And in all her wars, England has always gained one battle—the last”.
This was a line that Venizelos apparently said, and Churchill clearly loved it. In effect, it’s a slogan or form of branding of Britain as a country, depicting it as a country that always wins wars—and it’s wonderful England-building.
The film then ends with another voice-to-camera piece where Churchill says,
The reign of George V has been a great drama in the history of the world…. Yet tonight we find ourselves in the enjoyment of our old freedoms… Beneath the Crown and sceptre arose the famous trident of sea power carrying with it not only self-defence and self-preservation but the means of casting a mighty weight upon the side of justice… Historians will argue for a thousand years whose was the blame, but what they will not argue about is what this island and the British Empire did.
So, what I take away from this is that Churchill with his script wanted to convey to the world that the British Empire was a force for good, that it had won the loyalty of its dominions and that it was precisely because of this loyalty that it was able to prevail in the Great War…
He sent the script to Korda who cabled back “scenario brilliant but too political.” Britain was of course at this time coming under increasing international pressure to give up its dominions, not to reinforce the bonds.
The Jubilee of George V was now fast approaching and Korda had a difficult decision to make. Also, Churchill has shown no concern for budget, imagining scenes on the battlefield, and in various parts of the Empire… In the end, Korda shelves the project, much to Churchill’s disappointment.
Korda and Churchill remain in contact now throughout the decade. Churchill visits the studio regularly and stocked the pond with swans, for which he needed the King’s permission.
Lawrence of Arabia
Korda also seeks his advice about several other projects, one of which was a script called Lawrence of Arabia. Korda was the originator of that film project and tried to make it in the 30s, but met with foreign office opposition. They were anxious not to upset Turkey at that time, in case they might need their support in an eventual war. Churchill did however provide some helpful notes, mainly urging Korda to ensure that he accurately convey the geography to the audience and show just how much ground Lawrence covered.
The Conquest of the Air
Churchill also advised Korda on a film about the history of aviation called The Conquest of the Air—a film that was actually made. Churchill’s main contribution was to point out to Korda that the script lacked a moral underpinning, commenting that it “neither strikes the note of hope nor imparts the moral lesson. Man has wrested this great secret from the Gods, is he worthy of it?” This was a further attempt to raise awareness of the sinister nature of German air rearmament. The ending of the eventual film did make this point very clear.
Fire Over England
What Churchill becomes for Korda in a sense now is an historical advisor and what’s revealing is that his next big hit is another period epic, called Fire Over England. This film depicts Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, and her fight against the Spanish Armada. It is another excellent bit of England-building.
The central character, Queen Elizabeth, is no comedy figure like her father, Henry. She is a powerful and inspiring war leader. And she is presented as the embodiment of Britain, played by Flora Robson. She even says at one point “I am England.” in a wonderful bit of screenplay dialogue.
The film then conveniently presents England as the underdog. It’s seen as this small island standing alone against an aggressive dictator, who in this case was King Philip of Spain—who is standing in for Hitler at this point. It was made in 1937. So, this is another bit of England-building that Korda made. It was a huge hit in America. It was the first British film to be premiered in Los Angeles. So, these are significant films that had a substantial cultural impact.
Parallels to the 1930s
Now, in 1938, President Roosevelt appointed Joseph Kennedy, the father of John F. Kennedy, to be ambassador to Britain, a man of Irish Catholic descent, and seemingly no great lover of Britain. As ambassador, he immediately joined the appeasement movement and when war broke out only a year later he began to advocate for peace with Hitler.
What’s frightening now is that the scenario which Churchill had described in his screenplay in which the Empire comes to the rescue doesn’t look like it is going to happen. But where he was accurate was that Britain is woefully un-prepared for war. The Empire is also more loosely-knit than ever. And to make matters worse, within a matter of months, France surrenders, which had not been the case in world war one. The appeasement movement now hits top level, both in Britain and in America, where 80% of the population was opposed to intervention. And the sense you get is that no one outside of a mad house would have continued to fight on.
It’s now that something extraordinary happens. Fiction and reality begin to merge. Churchill’s romantic notion of Britain, or this “idea of Britain” that he had developed with Korda is precisely the weapon that he starts to use.
When he is unexpectedly asked to become Prime Minister and he takes to the stage—and the speeches he makes are littered with historical references and parallels in the Korda vein.
In a speech he gave in September 1940, he referenced the story of Fire Over England by reminding people of “those brave old days of the past” when the “Spanish Armada was approaching the Channel, and Drake was finishing his game of bowls; or when Nelson stood between us and Napoleon’s Grand Army at Boulogne”.
So, what he is conjuring up here is an “idea of England” that is almost more akin to an inner world of make-believe—and the movies—than it is to reality.
And in a further reference to his screenplay, he goes on in his “We shall fight on the beaches” speech to say that “if this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guard by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until. in God’s good time, the new world with all its power and might steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
This was—quite frankly—very wishful thinking. America was certainly not coming to the rescue at that time.
That Hamilton Woman
This brings me to That Hamilton Woman. On 23 May 1940, Korda had a meeting with Duff Cooper, who was Churchill’s Minister of Information. And it’s at that meeting that the idea of making an “American” propaganda film is first broached.
Korda would fly to Hollywood and make a film about Nelson and his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar – which was almost Churchill’s favourite bit of history, after perhaps his ancestor Marlborough’s victories.
And of course, this time, the parallel was to compare Napoleon to Hitler. In those days, the censors would not allow films to be made about current statesmen, like Hitler. This is part of the reason for the parallels, but I think they are actually more powerful than if they were to have made a pastiche about Hitler.
Korda cleverly cloaks the narrative in a story about Nelson and his love affair with his mistress, Lady Hamilton. And he casts Vivien Leigh, who was by that stage the most famous movie star in the world, after her performance as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Korda had also discovered Vivien Leigh. So, there are a great many things that are coming together here at a very fortuitous time.
Most U.S. audience members would have assumed they were going to see a 19th century love story—but what they came away with was a romantic notion of Britain as the centuries-old underdog standing alone again against an aggressive European dictator. And if they picked up the newspapers or watched the newsreels, they would immediately see the parallel.
The film became Churchill’s favourite and it is very well attested that he would cry every time he saw Nelson on his deathbed at the battle of Trafalgar. He watched the film endless times throughout the war, much to exasperation of his military colleagues who were forced to watch it with him.
The most notable screening he arranged was on board the battleship HMS Prince of Wales during the Atlantic Charter meeting with President Roosevelt in August, 1941. That meeting ultimately secured further aid for Britain whilst America was still neutral.
“This Idea of England”
Amazingly, two years after the outbreak of the War, in September, 1941, the U.S. Senate investigated Hollywood for “Propaganda in Motion Pictures” and Korda’s film That Hamilton Woman was Exhibit A.
They went after Charlie Chaplin as well, who had made The Great Dictator, which was a Korda idea. Korda had joined the United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and suggested to Chaplin that he should make a film about Hitler back in 1937. So, Korda’s involvement goes far beyond the immediate films.
The senators were keen to point out that this was precisely the kind of warmongering propaganda that they wanted to stop—and precisely because it was being made by somebody who wasn’t American. It was the beginning of the un-American activities investigations which continued into the 1950s with the Communist movement. Korda was accused of being a foreign agent, which put him in a very dangerous position.
But outside of the Senate arena, in the streets, public opinion was starting to shift behind the idea of aiding Britain, and I think it is interesting to consider why that was.
I think a clue to that may well lie in this “idea of England—or Britain” that Korda and Churchill had so successfully conjured up and exported to the world, and I believe it was starting to convince people.
For the newsreel cameramen now, it is Churchill who becomes, in a sense, the biggest movie star in the world. And perhaps with an inward eye to his hero Nelson, he was able to become this larger-than-life character that was capable of acting Hitler off the stage.
On 7 December 1941, tragedy came to America at Pearl Harbour and it was propelled into war, and the isolationist movement effectively collapsed. The result of that was that the new world did indeed step forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old world. And this brought about a revival of our shared values and freedoms, which were in danger of being lost.
It was Canadian, British and American troops who landed on Omaha beach to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny, and in that sense Churchill got the screenplay ending that he always wanted. Today, we are faced with a world of increasing division and isolationism, and I think it’s important to remind ourselves how easily and how often history repeats itself.
After the war, Churchill and Korda remained in touch. Korda gave Churchill the gift of a home cinema at his house at Chartwell—as a sign of his admiration. And they would spend evenings together smoking cigars, drinking brandy and watching movies. There are varying reports but I think Churchill notched up seventeen viewings of That Hamilton Woman in all.
The two remained friends for the rest of their lives and when Churchill was being inundated with offers for film projects from all over the world, he decided that what he would really like to do was to make a film with Korda.
They started a plan to make a documentary about his life, but sadly only the first page of the outline survives, as Korda died a few months later. But I can tell you this, the film was to begin with his ancestor Marlborough.
And so ends the story of these two men, who in a uniquely 20th century, cinematic sense. imparted to us an “idea of Britain”—and by extension, the western world—at an extremely important time.
So, I take my hat off to them in deep gratitude and hope that their legacy and the lessons that they imparted to us will continue to endure. Thank you.
Questions and Answers
Q: “Thank you for joining us today. With your knowledge of the past of our two countries, would you dare to comment about the current Brexit crisis?”
Fleet: “Yes, I would [Laughter]. It’s so contentious that it’s a very difficult moment because we don’t really know what’s going to happen now. But I was very much against Brexit on the basis that international alliances are going to help us to fix the problems in the world, and isolationism is not what we want. Interestingly in the Churchill Archives I came across a quote from Churchill, where he said that a Europe united without us could be a Europe united against us.* And I think that’s the best summary I’ve found of Churchill’s views on Europe. A lot of people have tried to claim that he’d be in the Brexit camp, but it does seem now that Europe is united against us. So I think he was right that that was the danger. I don’t know if that answers the question.”
* Reference is to Julian Amery, House of Commons, 18 May 1989: “I once asked Winston Churchill how we were to reconcile our interests in the Commonwealth, which still existed, with our membership of Europe. He said, “It will not be easy—on the other hand, we must have a united Europe if there is not to be another Franco-German war and if we are to keep the Germans in the Community.” And then he said, “A Europe united without us could be a Europe united against us.” (Parliamentary Debates, Hansard.)
* * *
Q: “Five American directors were essentially drafted or enlisted into the armed services to make propaganda movies on the behalf of the government. Was there any similar type of program in Britain, and was Korda part of that?”
Fleet: “Good question. You’re referring to Five Came Back, a documentary about those five filmmakers, I think. You mean Capra, and the American ones? No, you see, the British have always been quite inept in propaganda. The weird thing is that in this respect Korda and Churchill are actually not very English. Churchill was half American, and, you know, a bombastic nature is not very English. I think the idea of propaganda runs against the British character. I think Korda, being not British himself, was the perfect guy to do it. A lot of British documentary makers were government funded, but the value and propaganda was not the same. So there was no government effort. In fact, Korda was the rogue filmmaker. The government was trying to stop him from making some of the propaganda in the early part of the war when the appeasers were still in charge.”
Q: “Is the original screenplay that Churchill wrote available?”
Fleet: “It is, it’s in the Archives. I mean, it’s not in print, no. And it’s quite wooden in parts. You know, I wouldn’t advise somebody to sit back and read the whole thing, but it is actually, it’s very interesting.”
* * *
Q: “I’m reading a book whose author indicates that Churchill actually wrote a fair number of scripts, but that none of them were ever produced. Is that true?”
Fleet: “Yes” [Laughter].
Q: “Wow. But he kept getting paid to do that? Why?”
Fleet: “Well that’s the other side of it, which is that the money was helpful to him. He was often in serious debt. So Korda was being very generous in offering him large sums of money for scripts that were never made. Which was very kind of him, I think. He showed generosity to Churchill throughout his life, bought film rights to his books, and paid the equivalent of nearly £2 million today for the film rights to the History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which is 2000 years long. I mean, there’s no way you can make a film about that. Yes, that’s a mystery to me.”
* * *
Q: “If I may ask a question about how we might, apply this to recent days. For years, conservative economists have delivered the technical reasons for why socialism doesn’t work, yet we have the House of Representatives pushing forth a bill that’s going to stop cows from farting. How might we use the method used by the filmmakers to defend the free-market system that has traditionally been America’s system.”
Fleet: “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that one [Laughter]. Filmmakers can make a film about anything nowadays, you know, so how do you encourage that? If it’s about government involvement, and you want less government involvement, then you have to make it yourself. But you have to raise the money privately, and then you have no censorship. Don’t know if that helps, but it’s a good question.”
Q: “I was reflecting on the British-Hungarian filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. I’ve noticed that there was a tremendous influx of Hungarian talent to not only the European movie-making industry, but also in the United States. Was there a vibrant film community in Hungary, or were these primarily Hungarian Jews who were fleeing the oppressive nature of the continent?”
Fleet: “There was a great movement in Berlin, mainly. Berlin was the main European film capital in the Twenties, and then of course they all fled. There was a huge exodus of great talented people who left because of the persecution, the anti-Semitism.They ended up in Hollywood, much to Hollywood’s benefit, because really Hollywood didn’t invent cinema, it was the Europeans. So talented Europeans shaped the early days of Hollywood. In Hungary, silent films were made, but Germany was more important. Alexander Korda was the one who put Powell and Pressburger together. They made some of the greatest films in British cinema. Korda’s influence is not just as a propagandist. He just nurtured a lot of people’s careers. That is why the best British film award at BAFTA is the Korda Award. He’s celebrated the figurehead of British cinema, and yet he was not British at all.”
* * *
Q: “Slightly off the subject, but his brother Vincent Korda was was credited in this film. The son of Vincent Korda is Michael Korda, who was for twenty or thirty years, chief editor of Simon & Schuster. He started writing, and he has a phenomenal line of books that I recommend, they are certainly worth anyone in this audience reading.”
Fleet: “I’ve met Michael, and I know he’s a great writer, a very interesting man. He wrote a book about the Kordas as well, Charmed Lives, about him growing up in the Korda family, and it’s really well written.” [Note: see also our review of Michael Korda’s Alone: Britain, Churchill and Dunkirk.]
Q: “After World War II, did Churchill try to team up with any other filmmakers following Korda? Was he still involved in screenplays, and did he still show an interest in trying to further that part of his career?”
Fleet: “Absolutely. Korda died quite young. He was only 62, and he died in ‘56. But you know for a good decade after the war he was helping a lot of filmmakers, but he wasn’t directing films anymore. He was brilliant at just taking on new filmmakers and taking risks. His reputation in Britain is high; there’s never been anyone like him in terms of his ability to champion new directors and throw money at things that other people would never have. So Powell and Pressburger are the key people he helped after the war. And Sir David Lean is another one he helped.”
* * *
Q: “In watching your presentation, I keep thinking of Seth Meyer on Saturday Night Live. Somehow, to me, there’s a resemblance. But anyway, to the question. Is there a back story as to why he selected the name Alexander Korda.”
Fleet: “Ah, right, yes, there is. That’s a great question. Korda took his name from a church in Budapest. And actually in Latin there was written an inscription, “sursum corda,” which was written with a “c,” which means “lift up your hearts.” He decided that that was a name he wanted to opt for. Because Kellner actually means “waiter.” It’s not actually a Jewish name, really. He was of Jewish origin, but he wanted something grander, I think. Korda sounded good to him. So that was the reason.”
Q: “Charlie Chaplin, I heard you mention, was making more money than anyone, and his name was more important than anyone in the world. He left Hollywood accused of un-American activity because they were clamping down and he he moved to England and Switzerland. Did his moving out of the U.S. have an influence on our wartime effort?”
Fleet: “Well, Chaplin makes The Great Dictator, but he’s very helpful in the war, and he doesn’t come back to Britain. Obviously he stays in Hollywood. But you see in The Great Dictator, the interesting thing is that it was a comedy film. Actually, I think that Lady Hamilton, or That Hamilton Woman as it was called in America, had more impact in a sense because it was a melodrama, you know, and it showed that ultimately that melodrama is about the ultimate fight between good and evil. And I think that was the clever thing that Korda was involved in. But I think you know with Chaplin, obviously that more people probably went to see The Great Dictator and loved it. Whether it actually really helped, I don’t know. I’m sure it did, probably, yes.”
* * *
Q: “Thank you very much for your talk. I was thinking about Leni Riefenstahl who made the German propaganda films. There’s a distinctive flavor to that type of propaganda that’s like very powerful, very feral, and then you see the American type of propaganda at the time. What is the flavor, what’s the angle for British propaganda? Because it doesn’t seem to be the same; it seems to be more subdued. Where were they coming from? What were they trying to portray?”
Fleet: “I think it’s the historical angle I was trying to talk about. For me, I think the approach that Korda and Churchill had taken was, in a way, not propaganda. It’s a glorified version of the past, which is slightly different from the Triumph of the Will and the Riefenstahl propaganda, which was making a film effectively all about Hitler. It was not so much about past heroes, but it was about him, about his, you know, awe-inspiring presence.
All the camera work is all about putting him on center stage. Hitler in effect sort of orchestrates Triumph of the Will. He writes the speeches, he organizes the sets, that’s the amazing thing about it. Churchill was not doing that. He was referencing his heroes, and I think that that’s what made the propaganda potentially more effective. And more entertaining, above all. I think that’s the other thing. These are entertaining films, whereas Triumph of the Will, I think you know, was not a big hit. It won awards, in France, actually. I think it was not a great entertaining film, but it was certainly an impressive film.”