We went to see Darkest Hour last night. The film portrays Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) in May 1940. When Neville Chamberlain stepped down, Churchill became Prime Minister on May 10 and became Great Britain’s war leader. In Five Days in London: May 1940 (1999), John Lukacs focused on these events and took us into the cabinet meetings portrayed in the film. Stick with Lukacs.
The film reduces Churchill to a quivering jellyfish with remarkable oratorical gifts. Here the tight historical focus of the film serves the fabricated story line. Churchill is not the man who foresaw Hitler’s threat and decried the policy of appeasement. He is not the man who called on Britain to resist Hitler and rebuild its defenses. He is not the visionary statesman who saw the gathering storm. He is not, as the title of one of Martin Gilbert’s biographical volumes has it, The Prophet of Truth.
As the film opens, he serves in a ministerial position in Chamberlain’s government. But who is he?
On May 10, Churchill is called on to lead the government. The film gives us Churchill experiencing a dark night of the soul. He blubbers. He blusters. He shouts. He drinks. He finds resolve in the course of a fictional ride on the underground during which he communes with British commoners. Don’t miss your stop, Sir Winston!
The thing is so stupid it made me want to blubber. Looking around online this morning, I see that Kyle Smith called it out in this NRO column last month. I found Smith’s column via John Podhoretz’s Weekly Standard review taking issue with Smith.
To my knowledge the best Churchill on film remains Robert Hardy’s in the 8-part television series The Wilderness Years. Martin Gilbert’s companion book appears still to be in print. Steve took a look back at Hardy in “Robert Hardy, RIP” together with his own compilation of speech excerpts from the shoddy video version of the series (below). Steve’s compilation culminates in Churchill’s great October 1938 speech in protest of the Munich agreement.
NOTE: Taking a look at the comments, I want to urge readers not to take my word for it. See for yourself and draw your own conclusions. You may well disagree with me, as John Podhoretz does in the linked review. (John is my favorite reviewer, by the way.) Even if you were to agree with me about the movie, I think you may well find seeing it worthwhile in order to know what is being peddled out there and perhaps to inspire you to revisit the true history of one of the greatest men who ever lived.