As far as former politicians go, Winston Churchill must be one of the hottest potatoes at the farmer’s market right now. The 2017 Oscar-winning drama Darkest Hour invoked his struggles to win through against the evils of Adolf Hitler in WWII, while various politicians and celebrities have labelled him a “villain”, “white supremacist” and any number of other unflattering epithets in recent years. This one-woman stage play from writer Hugh Whitemore and Rohan McCullough eschews all that political controversy in favour of examining the man from a new angle: through the eyes of his doting wife Clementine.
McCullough is excellent in the role. From the moment she steps on stage, she inhabits the persona of Clementine with utter believability and effortless elegance. Every toss of the head, every twitch of the eyebrow and every curl of the lip has us eating out of this woman’s hand and fully believing in her story, even if the events of it are not always the stuff of bedtime stories. There is her own attempted kidnap by her father in her teenage years, the loss of two of her offspring before their time and, most unavoidably of all, the raging bull (or pug) of a man that was her husband.
Although Churchill’s achievements in warfare and government are indisputable, there are numerous questions marks looming over his character and his comportment during his lifetime. While My Darling Clemmie avoids all of these (except for a brief mention of the Dardanelles, in which Churchill is painted as victim, rather than villain), he scarcely comes off better in the trivial but equally telling insights into his domestic life with Clementine. Obstinate and implacable, it seems that Churchill took a dim view over anyone’s opinions other than his own, especially in later life. At the same time, Clementine’s own character faults creep through on occasion, whether it be her condescending dismissal of her daughter Mary’s first husband or the inverted snobbery towards the social elite abroad.
But despite these ugly idiosyncrasies (or perhaps because of them), we still find ourselves utterly engaged by the character of Clementine onstage. It’s refreshing that what shines through most about a man often lauded as the Greatest Briton of all Time is his humanity and the utter devotion of his nearest and dearest. Regardless of your personal politics, it’s undeniable that Churchill had a huge hand in shaping British culture and through the nimble but nuanced script from Whitemore and a delicate, flawless and emotionally-involved performance from McCullough, My Darling Clemmie manages to shine a new light on one of the country’s brightest and bolshiest beacons.