Embracing de Gaulle

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Image credit: 
Poster UK 3056A, Poster collection, Hoover Institution Archives.

Image credit: 
Poster UK 3056A, Poster collection, Hoover Institution Archives.

Oooh la la! The news that a new biopic movie about General Charles de Gaulle is about to be released showing him making love to his wife Yvonne shortly before the Germans invaded France in 1940 has left the normally-relaxed French all of a fluster.

French people who usually regard “Le Général”—who is in many ways the founder of modern France—as an aloof, even austere, figure are about to get a jolt from the new film De Gaulle, which shows the passionate man beneath the tall kepi. The director, Gabriel Le Bomin, has clearly taken the decision to personalize de Gaulle, but as the film’s excellent trailer shows, not to trivialize him—although he has been accused of doing just that by some French critics.

De Gaulle’s touching love for his daughter Anne, who had Down Syndrome, features prominently in the film, which has prompted Christine Clerc, who has written several books on de Gaulle, to suppose that the de Gaulles themselves would have “detested” the movie. She nevertheless states that it is factually accurate, which is saying a good deal for history movies, most of which call to mind the immortal clerihew:

Cecil B. de Mille
Rather against his will,
Was persuaded to leave Moses
Out of The Wars of the Roses.

France Télévisions, the state broadcaster, has complimented the film, especially about the way that it was “daring to open a biopic on General de Gaulle by presenting him in the early morning in bed with his wife,” adding, “Rarely has the fusion between private life and history been filmed with such pertinence.”

In many ways, Charles de Gaulle almost single-handedly saved the honor of France when the World War One hero Marshal Philippe Pétain wanted to surrender to the Germans, whereas de Gaulle flew to London to carry on the struggle, and then commanded the Free French forces for the rest of the war. This year sees the eightieth anniversary of de Gaulle’s splendidly courageous BBC broadcast, which called on the French people to resist the Nazis, as well as the 130th anniversary of his birth and the 50th of his death. It is therefore the perfectly apposite moment to release a movie about his finest hour, and if that involves presenting him as a flesh-and-blood man sexually as well as politically and militarily, that’s all to the good. It is devoutly to be hoped, however, that we are not subjected anytime soon to the spectacle of the sexagenarian Winston Churchill making love to his wife Clementine.