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De Gaulle

Peter W Sheehan  |  21 April 2021

DE GAULLE. Starring: Lambert Wilson, Isabelle Carre, Olivier Gourmet, Tim Hudson, Phillipe Laudenbach, and Clemence Hittin. Directed by Gabriel Le Bomin. Rated M (Mature themes, injury detail and brief nudity). 109 min.

This wartime, French historical drama, with English and French dialogue, depicts the challenges and conflicts facing Charles de Gaulle (Wilson) at a decisive time in political and military history. It was a time when France, facing military defeat, was receiving pressure to appease Germany.

The film shows de Gaulle’s personal turmoil that was enhanced by his deep love of his wife, Yvonne (Carre), and his disabled daughter, Anne (Hittin), who had Down’s Syndrome. De Gaulle was desperate to protect both his wife and daughter in any way possible, and the movie frequently shifts from family turmoil to military and political turmoil to demonstrate the personal complexity of his conflicts.

The film anticipates, but does not deal with de Gaulle’s domination of the French political landscape in the years that followed the end of WWII. It focuses on a critical time in 1940, when the French government, under the leadership of Paul Reynard (Gourmet), was under intense pressure to renegotiate with Germany to satisfy its demands. De Gaulle was a key figure in France’s uncertain future, and he argued consistently against any armistice with Germany.

In pursuit of his goals, de Gaulle was given permission to travel across to Britain, leaving his wife and daughter in France, at some risk to them. In London, he argued vehemently with a conflicted Winston Churchill (Hudson), to request additional military support for France, which was refused. After winning Churchill’s admiration, de Gaulle eventually turned the political tide in Britain and France with his speech of 18 June – delivered in just a few minutes world-wide on BBC radio. It was a speech that paved the way for the French Resistance.

The movie pays good attention to period detail and is directed by Le Bomin to depict de Gaulle fighting, almost single-handedly, against the political odds to defend his country against those around him in military control – people such as Le marechel Phillipe Petain (Laudenbach), who remained resolute in wanting to appease Germany.

Wilson’s de Gaulle is measured and unpretentious, and he portrays him as a person who demonstrates courage and tenacity that helped rebuild the fighting spirit of the French. The film offers a warm account of a person yet to become one of France’s best known, and longest-serving political leaders. It deals with Colonel de Gaulle, rather than President de Gaulle, and spends a lot of time on de Gaulle’s love of his wife and handicapped daughter. In doing so, however, it stays firmly at the outer edge of intense political intrigue, that President de Gaulle later mastered. Under Le Bomin’s controlled direction, the film chooses to deal in a visionary way with the character of de Gaulle. It is of special historical interest in highlighting de Gaulle’s aspirations to be a future leader, and in its portrayal of the birth of the French Resistance.

At its core, the film is a romantic and sentimental depiction of a powerful leader, and it gives a human touch to an historical figure of national and international importance. This is not a movie to change fixed opinions (whatever they may be) about de Gaulle. Rather the film aims to present a relatively warm portrayal of a famous political figure. In the film, de Gaulle is a well-observed, dutiful figure of character, who is presented differently from the way history normally depicts him. In character terms, Gabriel Le Bomin’s movie portrays de Gaulle as someone viewers are asked to like, and he makes a strong case for doing so. 


Palace Films

Released 25 April, and then from 6 May
Peter W Sheehan is an Associate of Jesuit Media


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