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Blood, Toil, Tears and ... Tubs?

Brendan Gleeson as Winston Churchill in "Into the Storm." (Courtesy of HBO)

Hey, did that really happen?

It's the nagging question in your head while watching any biopic or historical drama (did Richard Nixon really drunk-dial David Frost, as in "Frost/Nixon"? Did the Spartans really fight the Persians wearing capes and Speedos, a la "300"?) -- and sometimes you just wish you had a couple of prizewinning historians next to you on the couch to help sort it out.

Fortunately, British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald provided exactly that Tuesday night at a dinner and screening of the new HBO film "Into the Storm." Actor Brendan Gleeson, who stars as the wartime Winston Churchill, was there -- but so were best-selling historians Michael Beschloss and Jon Meacham, who conducted a little panel discussion after the lights went back up that saved us, like, hours of Wikipeding.

Okay, guys: Did Churchill really suffer a top-secret heart attack during the war?

Indeed. "He almost died after Casablanca in '43," said Meacham, the editor of Newsweek and author of "Franklin and Winston," a book about the friendship between the allies. No, interjected Beschloss, it was after the Tehran Conference in '44. But, okay, in the ballpark, anyway.

Did King George VI really put the kibosh on the prime minister's notions of riding ashore with the troops on D-Day? Really true, they said.

But did Churchill really conduct a business meeting with FDR while soaking in a White House bathtub? (In the film, his towel drops and he quips, "As you can see, Mr. President, I have nothing to conceal from you.")

Yes! said Meacham, eyes lighting up. "I actually interviewed the man who took the dictation!" He added: "For me, in a dork way, it was very glamorous."

By The Reliable Source  |  May 14, 2009; 1:03 AM ET
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