Not a film review
Darkest Hour, much like “Dunkirk” in 2017, is a refreshing film, beautiful to watch, clever and powerful. Its gift is that it does not seem to preach, but tells the story. The story in this case of the man who, disliked by almost everyone in his later years, was called upon to the lead his country in possibly its most dangerous time.
I grew up with Churchill. As a child in the 50’s the war years were recent memories for my parents and my mother could spend hours recounting personal stories of the Clydebank blitz. She would describe what it was like to be in a country at war, always had her take on the politics of it and never far away was the admiration for the man. Even my father who found the cigar smoking, heavy drinking, and load mouthed aristocratic antics quite distasteful held a grudging recognition that Churchill was somehow the man for the time and without him the world may well have descended into the “ the abyss of a new dark age” he ominously described in his speech to the House of Commons in June 1940. These words were pregnant with foreboding and with a chill I could feel even as a youngster. So I was imbued with the simple narrative of these times: from its beginnings in Poland to its ending in the South Asian sea, from Chamberlain to Macarthur, from the Bren gun to the atomic bomb and somehow, while terrible things, some of indescribable horror, were done in the course of it all, the cause was just and the end was for the good.
That narrative has taken a severe battering over the years and, while I know that we must always revise orthodox interpretations of history and challenge any complacency over the horrors of war, I cannot help but feel that we can revise it out of its significance and its relevance in understanding where we are today. It is so easy for those of us who have never known anything but peace and who have enjoyed unprecedented levels of freedom and comfort to pontificate and judge the actions of those who lived in a quite different time. We need to have the imagination to think our way into what it was like for them and the film does that brilliantly
The darkest hour, it seems, was the time when a terrible decision had to be made and the nightmare of being the one on whom that decision lay most heavily. What the film seemed to suggest was that Churchill was tortured by the decision and seemed to carry the burden alone. In 1940 the war could have ended with a peace treaty. The route to such a treaty was in place and the negotiations almost begun. Instead the conflict escalated to include the whole world, involving millions of deaths and the most diabolical destruction. The dilemma is a recurring one and strangely one that is hard to debate in the face of polarised views on defence, the protection of interests, defending the oppressed, militarism and pacifism.
The Darkest Hour, to its credit, opens up that vexed question. It doesn’t answer it. It just leaves it there.
Of course it is only a film not a documentary or a detailed historical account. It is a drama. The underground scene, for example, is a very fanciful one but it serves to illustrate how Churchill seemed to connect directly with the people over the normal political channels. The intriguing thing is that the connection was not made by any attempt to be ordinary or be like the “common people”. From his pedigree and privileged background, he couldn’t have been more different. Yet he somehow sensed what the people needed to hear so that resolve could be galvanised and victory achieved
Whatever we think of the man, and in there is no love lost for him in my own city of Dundee, he had that special quality of true leadership, not to shirk from making a fearful decision and to carry the people with him.
I loved the film.