2002-05-09 / Arts & Entertainment

Documentary Reveals Private Battles Among WWII Allies

To the outside world, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, French General Charles de Gaulle and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (pictured at right) were allies in the fight against Hitler. But behind the appearance of unity among these titans were contentious private battles that threatened the entire war effort. ALLIES AT WAR, a presentation of Thirteen/WNET New York, is the first documentary ever to reveal this intensely personal drama of rancor and deceit played out against the backdrop of World War II. Featuring rare archival footage, private correspondence and interviews with historians and insiders, including FDR’s grandson Curtis Roose-velt, the two-hour documentary, narrated by Brian Dennehy, premieres May 22 at 9 P.M. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

The subject matter of ALLIES AT WAR is, in itself, controversial. During World War 11, it appeared that a united front existed among Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle, personally and politically. Even today, more than 50 years after the three leaders were photographed at the tension-wrought Casablanca Con-ference, that image of unity remains in our collective imagination as well as the history books. For the program, the producers were able to gain access to previously sealed files that tell a different story. With considerable persistence, they convinced the British Cabinet Office to release startling documents that reveal how Churchill arranged to tap de Gaulle’s telephone and detain him against his will in London.

Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill trusted de Gaulle and the feeling was mutual. The period from 1940 to 1945 was marked by constant clashes between Roosevelt and Churchill on one side and de Gaulle on the other. A Joan of Arc figure, de Gaulle became obsessed with saving the honor of his country from the Nazi occupiers and dedicated himself to liberating France. To the public, de Gaulle represented Free France, a committed and courageous hero lionized even by Roosevelt and Churchill as the greatest wartime Frenchman.

In one remarkable interview segment in the film, Curtis Roosevelt recalls listening in amazement as his grandfather spoke contemptuously about de Gaulle at the dinner table.

As the documentary reminds us, the legacy of the astonishing hostility affected both the United States and Britain at crucial stages of their post-war development. After de Gaulle became the president of France, he lambasted the United States over its in-volvement in Vietnam and vetoed British entry into the European Common Market.

ALLIES AT WAR also examines the genesis of the steadfast, ongoing partnership between the United States and Great Britain, much in evidence today as Roosevelt and Churchill’s 21st-century counterparts join together to lead the worldwide fight against terrorism. The film highlights an historic, behind-closed -doors discussion between Churchill and de Gaulle, where the former remarks: "Each time we must choose between Europe and the open sea, we shall always choose the open sea. Each time I must choose be-tween you and Roosevelt, I shall always choose Roosevelt." That meeting, illustrated in one of the dramatic re-creations that punctuate the film and capture the mood and tone of the events, left de Gaulle seething with anger.

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