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How Churchill enlisted Laurence Olivier to lure America into the war

How Winston Churchill played key role in creating hit Hollywood film starring Laurence Olivier to lure America into the Second World War by comparing Hitler to Napoleon

  • Churchill involved in making of the 1941 film Lady Hamilton, documentary claims
  • Film is thought of as British propaganda aimed at securing sympathy from the US
  • It draws parallels between Admiral Nelson’s nemesis Napoleon and Adolf Hitler 
  • Sir Winston allegedly suggested concept of the film and scripted a pivotal scene 

Winston Churchill enlisted the help of film stars Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in a bid to entice the US into joining the war, a new documentary will reveal.

It claims the British wartime leader was heavily involved in the making of the 1941 drama Lady Hamilton, in which Olivier stars as Sir Winston’s hero Horatio Nelson.

The film has long been thought of as British propaganda aimed at US audiences and designed to draw parallels between Nelson’s nemesis Napoleon and Adolf Hitler.

However a new BBC documentary will reveal how Churchill originally suggested the concept of the film to its director and producer Alexander Korda. 

A new BBC documentary will investigate Winston Churchill’s fascination with film and saw its potential as a means of wartime propaganda (pictured at Downing Street in 1929)

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh pictured together in the film Lady Hamilton. The drama has long been thought of as British propaganda aimed at US audiences

Churchill and the Movie Mogul, set to air on BBC Four on Wednesday, also claims that Sir Winston suggested film titles to Korda and even scripted pivotal dialogue.

One of the key scenes in the film sees Nelson, played by Olivier, warn that French emperor Napoleon ‘can never be master of the world until he has smashed it up’.

He adds: ‘You cannot make peace with dictators, you have to destroy them, wipe them out.

‘Gentlemen, I implore you, speak to the prime minister before it is too late. Do not ratify this peace.’

The film’s attempts to woe US audiences was helped by stars Olivier and Leigh, then-husband and wife, who were one of the world’s most famous couples at the time


A new BBC documentary will reveal how Churchill originally suggested the concept of the film to Lady Hamilton director and producer Alexander Korda (shown right)

The film’s attempts to woe US audiences was helped by stars Olivier and Leigh, then-husband and wife, who were one of the world’s most famous couples at the time. 

Lady Hamilton was a critical and commercial success both in Britain and the US, and Hungarian Jewish emigrant Korda became the first filmmaker to be knighted in 1942.

Churchill is said to have watched it no less than 15 times, bursting into tears on each occasion, including during a screening with US President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941.

The documentary explores the prime minister’s realisation of the effectiveness of filmmaking as a propaganda tool, much like Nazi spin supremo Joseph Goebbels.

Lady Hamilton was a critical and commercial success both in Britain and the US, and Hungarian Jewish emigrant Korda (pictured) became the first filmmaker to be knighted in 1942

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