Allegiance: Winston Churchill and Michael Collins

  • 26 July 2006

This article is from 2006.

There can be no question that Winston Churchill was an iconic figure of the 20th century. A combination of political moment and the man's own charisma guarantees that. But which Churchill do you think of? The alcoholic who hosted his post-war cabinets to endless late night drinking sessions from which they had trouble recovering in the morning? Rab Butler, a relatively abstemious man, famously used to pour brandy into his shoe when the old loon wasn't looking. Or what of the butcher of Gallipoli, who with foreknowledge sent ANZACs to the slaughter? His reputation is quite different in Australia than it is in Britain. Or perhaps he's just the hero of Britain standing alone in 1940. There were in fact many Churchills through the years.

Michael Collins was less multifarious in his presentation of faces to the world, but equally intriguing. The Irish nationalist who spent years of struggle against the British state only, according to his critics, to bargain away the rights of the new free state in negotiations also represents a succession of paradoxes. So the meeting of these two titans over treaty discussions in 1921 is of interest to anyone with the vaguest sense that history is important.

In Mary Kenny's fictionalised account of this meeting, Churchill and Collins, representing opposite sides of a long and bloody conflict, at first don't hit it off. Yet the piece posits a dinner party, at which the two become quite close, discussing politics and compromise, a phenomenon that would make one and destroy the other. With Mel Smith - a legend of British showbiz - playing Churchill, there's also a major drawcard to this piece of living history. (Steve Cramer)

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