Never Give Up is set in England and the United States during the late 19th and early to mid 20th century. The play begins in 1908 with the young and already famous Winston Churchill. Although Churchill has achieved much, his overbearing style and incessant desire to succeed is ridiculed by many, including by the highly regarded and influential First Sea Lord – Lord Fisher. Lord Fisher and Churchill clash and a wager is made between them – can Churchill survive life’s blows and make the world a better place?
At the insistence of his spirited mother, Churchill attends Lady Charmley’s ball. At the ball Churchill is awestruck by the beauty and intelligence of Clementine Hozier, and for the first time in his life he is left at a loss for words. Chastised, but emboldened by his strong-willed and sharp-tongued mother, Churchill manages to regain his confidence and begin his successful courtship of Clementine. With Clementine at his side, it appears that Churchill’s quest to make the world a better place is assured.
The onset of World War I sees Churchill directing Britain’s naval operations as First Lord of the Admiralty. The stalemate of trench warfare and its catastrophic toll in lost lives brings public pressure to bear on Britain’s Liberal government and its War Council. Determined to stop the slaughter and break the stalemate, Churchill conceives of a plan to capture the Turkish capital, Constantinople. Backroom politics and military delays render the plan a miserable failure. The government offers up Churchill as a scapegoat and he is forced to resign as First Lord of the Admiralty. Publicly ridiculed and without influence, Churchill is deeply depressed. Recalling his childhood and his father’s predictions of a life of failure Churchill yearns to make a difference. Against all advice he joins the British army in France to fight in the trenches.
Surviving the war, Churchill returns to England and his family. The tragedy of war is now replaced with hope for the future and the joy of Marigold, Churchill’s youngest child born while he was away fighting in France. The happiness of reunion is brief, however, as Marigold turns seriously ill. The future looks grim as Churchill loses a small fortune in America’s stock market crash and his constant warnings of Nazi aggression render him a political outcast. One winter night, after concluding a speech at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, Churchill is nearly killed.
Encouraged by Clementine, Churchill resumes his lecture circuit of the United States. In between speaking engagements, Churchill visits Charlie Chaplin in Hollywood during the filming of one of Chaplin’s motion pictures. Chaplin assures Churchill that his warnings about Nazi Germany are not falling upon deaf ears and that the man on the street is listening. The invasion of Poland by Germany in 1939 is announced over the radio in a crowded British pub. Soon England will be at war with Germany. Churchill’s warnings have proven to be true and the English people now turn to Churchill as the only man capable of leading their country in its darkest hour.
As Prime Minister, Churchill is a brilliant and tireless leader. Reacting to the pressures of the day, he is also often brutally inconsiderate and impatient. It is left to Clementine to reprimand Churchill. In the aftermath of a German air raid on London, Churchill takes Clementine’s advice to heart and uses his actions and words to rally the English people.
As the war drags on, Churchill confesses to Clementine his deep fear that England will never defeat Germany unless the United States soon enters the war. Buoyed up by Clementine, Churchill pleads England’s case to the U.S. Ambassador to England and to President Roosevelt’s chief advisor. Luck lends a helping hand, and upon hearing a news report describing the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbour, the U.S. Ambassador and Churchill telephone President Roosevelt. The United States’ entry into the war is now a certainty. Churchill goes to bed with his fears for England put to rest.
The defeat of Germany is shortly followed by the unexpected defeat of Churchill’s coalition government. Although Churchill is honoured around the world, he remains out of political office for five years. Clementine is hopeful that Churchill will now retire. Confronting him in the garden at Chartwell, Clementine and Churchill argue vehemently about their future together. In his studio, Churchill is absorbed in his latest painting when he is visited by apparitions of his late father and Lord Fisher. A battle ensues with Churchill the victor and the wager settled in full by Lord Fisher!
Clementine arrives and awakens Churchill. Acknowledging that his success would not have been possible without her, Churchill declares that he can only carry on if Clementine is with him. Hearing these words and realizing that Churchill can never give up, Clementine yields. At the age of 77 and with Clementine at his side, Churchill shall once again run for the office of Prime Minister, incapable of giving up on his quest to prove his worth and make the world a better place.