Most Americans are familiar with the brilliance of Winston Churchill’s leadership during World War II, but few are aware of the tumultuous and frequently disastrous actions he pursued in World War I.

This BBC production traces Churchill’s unsteady record as the First Lord of the Admiralty when war broke out in 1914. At the time, both detractors and even supporters were highly wary of Churchill’s unsubtle political ambitions and his undisguised impatience with how the government faced the German enemy. His advocacy of expanding the battlefront from the stalemate in France to a second front in Turkey resulted in Britain’s blood-soaked debacle at Gallipoli.

Forced to resign, Churchill sought to reinvent himself by activating a dormant military commission and taking up service on the frontlines. Despite occasional lapses in protocol, including a remarkably clumsy attempt to swing a rapid promotion to the level of general, Churchill redeemed himself as a battle leader and was reintegrated into the higher echelons of government before the end of the war.

Filmmaker Adam Kemp offers an intelligent mix of rare photographs and newsreel footage along with tastefully presented re-enactments based on private correspondence between Churchill and his wife Clementine. The one catch here is having Adam James play Churchill in the re-enactments – the actor bears absolutely no physical or vocal resemblance to the celebrated subject, a rather curious consideration in view of Churchill’s highly distinctive presence.

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