Earlier in my life I spent a fair amount of time in darkened rooms with strangers watching movies. Now I dread it. The cost. The hassle of leaving home and traveling 45 minutes to the nearest theater. The extra calories of the popcorn. As a kid I’d see four movies in a week at the local multiplex. I’ve seen four since I’ve moved to North Carolina 8 years ago.
But when I heard the Winston Churchill biopic was at the local arthouse today there was no hesitation. And I’m glad I went.
Winston Churchill is one of History’s greatest men. In my view he easily makes the 20th Century’s top 10 and perhaps even breaking into the top 5. If you’re not a fan perhaps this movie is not for you, but come on? Not a fan of the man who stood alone against Hitler while even our country stood silent while Europe was overrun and the crematoria of the concentration camps built? Americans take pride in our fight against fascism in that war. We forget our shame in the way we barred entry to Jews fleeing Europe and contemplated our navels while Hitler blitzkrieg’d his way across the continent.
I’ve been a fan of Gary Oldman since Sid and Nancy and his take on Winston Churchill is superb. I’m always leery when a motion picture takes on a famous person I admire (e.g. Meryl Streep’s unflattering portrayal of Margaret Thatcher) but perhaps because Darkest Hour is a British production, the Brits avoid injecting liberal politics into their productions unlike Hamilton and Julius Caesar in the USA, and Darkest Hour does not revise history and make Churchill into a drunken monster.
Instead you see a Great Britain standing alone as Panzers race through France and Belgium, and Churchill begs for help from the Americans in a phone call with Roosevelt. While I suspect such a call never happened between the two leaders, the scene does convey the reality of a lonely nation standing against an unstoppable tyranny as American stuck their collective heads in the sand, refusing to enter another European war.
Churchill himself stood alone at that point, his war cabinet eager to surrender to Hitler, with the former prime minister Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax conspiring to remove Churchill just days after his appointment to the post by the King. The film shows Churchill racked with inner doubts himself yet maintaining a defiant outward presence that would in the end successfully resist Hitler alone with American help coming much later to liberate Europe from Nazi rule. This film shows Churchill bearing the weight of the free world on his shoulders, proof that History often provides the right man at the right time to countries the Fates smile upon. “When will the lesson be learned. You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.” A quote that echoes through time, whether in Rome after their defeat at Cannae or in Washington DC after 9-11.
The production sparkles with familiar faces from other British productions such as The Crown and Mr. Selfridge, and the movie ends where it needs to: with Churchill in command leading a country that became a beacon of hope and democracy on a continent America had turned her back on.