Apr 112017

Michael Redgrave

World War II had ended eleven years earlier, and Vietnam was yet to come.

The emotions of our victory had lessened and faded.

The fateful style of the commentators of World War II gave to simpler voices in the ‘50’s. Yet there were moments of heightened prose that could not be forgotten. Winston Churchill’s most famous lines are in the iambic mode: (short long, short long, short long): Shakespeare’s meter, Christopher Marlowe’s mighty line.

Read aloud and parse these excerpted passages from Winston Churchill’s speech, “This was their finest hour,” on June 18, 1940.

“…the Battle of France is over.

The Battle of Britain is about to begin.””

“The whole fury and might of the enemy

Must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island

Or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free

and the life of the world

may move forward into broad sunlit uplands.

But if we fail,

Then the whole world,”…”including all that we have known and cared for,

will sink into the abyss of a new dark age.””

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties

And so bear ourselves that

If the British Empire and its Commonwealth

Last for a thousand years, men will still say,

This was their finest hour.””

It was only later that I learned an actor had imitated Winston Churchill’s voice, and the Prime Minister’s speech was edited and shortened by the BBC. I tried to match the iambic prose as unobtrusively as possible. I didn’t want Cronkite’s accent, but in homage I wrote five beats to the line.

I asked Sir Michael Redgrave to read the forty lines of narration that had taken me a month to write. At the recording session, Sir Michael was very much affected by Churchill’s speech, and by his memories of the siege of Britain. Too much emotion—he cried.

I have never been good at directing actors.

I pleaded. “You know, Sir Michael, I think it would be better if you were … say … to hold it a little closer to yourself, say I mean, thin-lipped a little more, if you please? Please!”

That fine actor looked at me benignly and then wrote a single word on his script. His performance improved considerably but it had nothing to do with my direction.

Later I found the one word he had written:




Michael Redgrave, undated photo, http://vivandlarry.com/classic-film/spotlight-michael-redgrave/