In May 1940, the opposition Labour Party in Parliament demands the resignation of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for being too weak in the face of the Nazi onslaught. Chamberlain tells Conservative Party colleagues he wants Lord Halifax as his successor, but Halifax does not feel the time is right. Chamberlain is forced to choose the only man whom the opposition parties will accept: Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who correctly predicted the danger from Adolf Hitler before the war. Churchill tries to dismiss his new secretary Elizabeth Layton for mishearing him, which earns him a rebuke from his wife Clementine. King George VI, who strongly distrusts Churchill due to his support for his brother Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis, reluctantly invites him to form a government. Churchill includes Chamberlain (as Lord President of the Council) and Halifax (as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs). That day, Germany invades Belgium and the Netherlands.
Churchill has a poor reputation in Parliament because of his record in the Admiralty, his role in the Gallipoli Campaign in the First World War, his views on India, Russian civil war and his past defection to the Liberal Party. Parliament reacts coolly to Churchill’s first speech promising “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat”. Chamberlain and Halifax are appalled by Churchill’s refusal to negotiate for peace and plan to resign from the government to force a vote of no confidence, creating a situation in which Halifax would become the Prime Minister. Churchill visits French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, who thinks Churchill delusional for not admitting that the Allies are losing the Battle of France, while Churchill becomes furious that the French do not have a plan to counterattack. Although US President Franklin Roosevelt is sympathetic to Churchill’s plight, his actions are limited by an isolationist Congress and the Neutrality Acts. Churchill draws ire from his cabinet and advisers for delivering a radio address in which he falsely implies the Allies to be advancing in France – as a refugee column is heavily bombed – earning him a rebuke from the King. Halifax and Chamberlain continue to push to use Italian Ambassador Giuseppe Bastianini as an intermediary with Germany.