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Winston Churchill's other darkest hours, complicated past may change his legacy

Keystone/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The role he played at a pivotal moment in European history continues to inspire writers, artists and historians to revisit the life of the man, hoping to figure out who he was and capture the true nature of his character.

"History," Churchill once said in a speech in the House of Commons, "with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days."

So it may be said of the myriad reincarnations of Churchill through biographies -- including the film “The Darkest Hour,” in which Gary Oldman played the prime minister and won the best actor Oscar.

But the modern-day legacy of the former British prime minister and wartime hero is not always received with such celebration.

Critics have long explored Churchill’s not-so-fine hours, many of which are expunged from more romanticized depictions.

"Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II," written by the American Indian author Madhusree Mukerjee, argues that Churchill was directly responsible for the Bengal Famine of 1943, when more than a million people are said to have starved.

Similarly, "Churchill: The Greatest Briton Unmasked," written by historian Nigel Knight, was an attempt to directly challenge the sentimental image of Britain’s wartime hero, assessing his tenure as prime minister as disastrous for the U.K.

Recently in the U.K., a renewed interest in Churchill’s alleged infidelity, while married to longtime wife Clemmie, has spouted numerous articles and the documentary airing this month on British television called "Churchill’s Secret Affair."

A group of students, some of Indian and Pakistani descent, recently stormed a Churchill-themed café in North London after its opening, accusing the owners of "colonialism," and chanting "Churchill was a racist." One student, Shukri Habib Ali, wrote that he quoted Churchill’s own words, "I hate Indians ... they are a beastly people with a beastly religion," to the café's patrons.

In 2016, when Churchill’s portrait was to appear on the £5 note across the country, many wrote to express their outrage over such an endorsement for a man whose legacy is tainted by scandal and controversy.

Various articles have cited the leader's own words when he suggested that Britons with mental health issues "should be forcibly sterilised" and that he supported the use of chemical weapons, which he wanted to employ against the Russian Bolsheviks.

The writer Christopher Hitchens also wrote about the consequences of having been “brought up on the cult of Winston Churchill.”

His stamp on Britain's history, during its darkest and most defining days of the Second World War, is likely why many of his private and political controversies have been absent from the popular narratives about his life.

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