I remember as a kid seeing Winston Churchill’s funeral televised. I knew who he was from the old early morning presentation of Mike Wallace’s “Biography” series. I knew he was our ally during WW II and that he had rallied his country when the rest of Europe surrendered to the German military juggernaut. Later I read some of his speeches and read about his earlier history during WW I. But I didn’t imagine at this point that a good movie about his time as Prime Minister would come my way. I am happily surprised to have been mistaken.
I finally got a chance to watch “Darkest Hour” tonight. It has the look of a period piece and the feel of a film made from a stage play. There are set pieces and dialogs and very little filmed outside of buildings. I didn’t think Oldman was given a close resemblance to Churchill and the difficulty of understanding him when he is mumbling during certain scenes is considerable and I think purposeful. And there is a particular scene in a subway car that is completely fictional and that includes a Jamaican man in the scene who seems to have been added for the sake of diversity or inclusion that seems anachronistic.
Put all that aside. I thought it was a great evocation of the desperation of the time and the fateful choice of Churchill stepping into this darkest hour of British history. His flawed and idiosyncratic personality rubbed almost everyone the wrong way and his pugnacious courage was at odds with the war-weary British government in the post-WWI era. His relationship with Neville Chamberlain and King George VI are highlighted to show how he contrasted with those in government but the evolution of the war and the need for someone with the will to persevere in the face of Nazi blitzkrieg success becomes his inevitable platform from which to energize the Parliament and the people of England to take up the frightening struggle of all-out war.
Many of the scenes take place in underground bunkers where military and government teams are meeting and analyzing incoming war reports. There is a definite claustrophobic feel in much of this. And the frailty of Churchill’s age is highlighted when he seems overwhelmed by the infighting within his own war cabinet. But all of this only magnifies the achievement when he resolves on what will be his path forward and what must be done. The final speech in Parliament is stirring.