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Why Albert Finney Was the Perfect Winston Churchill: ‘An English Bulldog of an Actor’

Albert Finney was destined to play Winston Churchill. That was the view of the producers behind the 2002 HBO movie “The Gathering Storm,” which earned Finney his first and only Emmy Award.

Finney, who died Thursday in London at the age of 82, was envisioned for the role of Churchill in “Storm” from the outset, according to producer Colin Callender, who ran HBO’s movies and miniseries department at the time Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions made “Storm.”

The movie tells the story of Churchill’s return from political exile in Britain during the 1930s, as he continually sounds the alarm about the growing Nazi menace in Germany. Vanessa Redgrave played Churchill’s wife, Clementine, in the movie that is rooted in the strength of their love and her influence on his life.

The movie opens with a shot of Churchill waddling out of bed naked to take a bath. The scene was in the initial script but producers were unsure if Finney would be up for a long nude-from-behind shot. They needn’t have worried.

“He threw himself into it without hesitation,” Callender told Variety. “He was very playful about it. So there was Albert Finney in all of his naked glory.” Finney recognized that the shot was important to set the tone for “Storm,” which also earned the Emmy for best TV movie in 2002.

“It was there to tell you right upfront that it was going to be a warts-and-all portrayal of this man,” Callender said.

Finney brought to the role both the physical attributes of Churchill — “Churchill was the English bulldog and Finney was an English bulldog of an actor,” Callender observes — as well as the charisma that is so important to any statesman.

“Finney had all the right sensibilities,” Callender says. “He could bash the table and then smile and get away with it.”

Finney and Redgrave got along famously during the production. “One of the joys of that film was watching two great British icons playing off of each other,” Callender said. “They were two great actors who knew their stuff and enjoyed what they were doing. They played with it and teased each other.”

Finney demonstrated his creative instincts in a scene when he is eagerly waiting for Clementine to return home after a trip. The script called for Finney to run outside and around a pond to embrace Redgrave. On the spot, Finney came up with the idea that Churchill would actually run through the pond out of his fervent desire to connect with his beloved wife.

“That’s a testament to his fearlessness as an actor and his instincts about his character,” Callender said. “He was really extraordinary.”

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