Movie Review: Darkest Hour

by Steve Lancaster12/24/17
Wife and I avoided the lines for Last Jedi yesterday in favor of Gary Oldman and Winston Spenser Churchill. It was a good choice. The movie covers the time from the German invasion of France to the evacuation at Dunkirk. Oldman is front and center throughout the entire movie. He is in my opinion one of those rare actors who can take on a character and make it exist on the screen. Perhaps the best character actor of a generation.

He has been Dracula (1992), Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg in The Fifth Element (1997) Commissioner Gordon in the Batman trilogy (2005-2012), and the enigmatic George Smiley in Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy (2012). Even voiceovers in video games, Call of Duty. 

Churchill died during my high school years. I recall my dad making me listen some of his early speeches on CBS, I think it was, when he died in 1965. My father, a Pacific Marine vet and Korea vet, said that without Churchill Europe would have sunk into a crater never to emerge. Historical movies being what they are; in this case I give Churchill his due credit from 75 years into the future. I suppose, we could argue that Churchill at least gave Europe a chance to become great again.

It is not just the speeches, of which Darkest Hour is one of his best. It is also his uncompromising attitude with the evil of the Naaaazi regime. I wish I could write that with the venom that Churchill said it.

Most of all this is a movie about the qualities of leadership. Churchill had it in abundance and his political opponents had little, if any. Victor Davis Hanson in his latest book, The Second World Wars, makes the very valid point that England and the Empire single-handedly had the resources to defeat Germany and that by mid 1940 were producing more fighters and 4-engine bombers than Germany, who never built a 4-engine bomber. And, with the support of the Commonwealth, would be able to field an army and navy equal to the Germans.

But, even with all the resources in the world, without leadership the downward spiral cannot be averted. Perhaps, the last year has shown the difference between leadership and the PC crowd. I recommend that every never Trumper, and closet Marxist be required to sit up front in the theater for Darkest Hour. • (198 views)

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17 Responses to Movie Review: Darkest Hour

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Gary Oldman as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg was amazing. I would not of thought of him as playing Churchill. But then the man can indeed act.

    I look forward to seeing this film, particularly after the reputedly horrible effort of “Dunkirk.” It would be interesting to hear what you think of John Lithgow as Winston Churchill in “The Crown.” He seemed to capture the look if not the voice.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    So this basically covers the first few weeks of Churchill’s first term as Prime Minister — including the key meeting in which Neville Chamberlain crucially sided with Churchill for continuing the war over Lord Halifax seeking peace even at the price of surrender. With this and Dunkirk, it’s been a bumper crop year for World War II movies. Perhaps it’s because of the Trump = Hitler tommyrot.

    Germany did deploy a 4-engined bomber, the He-177. But due to a weird piece of stupidity, it was never very effective. Under the influence of Ernst Udet, Germany had decided that all its bombers should have dive-bombing capability. But they realized that nothing larger than a 2-engined bomber could dive (and the Ju-88 was never really good at it). So they decided that if they placed the 2 engines on each wing together, it would be 2 engines instead of 4, and the bomber could dive. Naturally this never really worked, and meanwhile the paired engines had a tendency to catch dire.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I watched “Darkest Hour” from a Red Box Blu-ray tonight.

    First off, I totally agree with Steve’s overall comment when he wrote: But, even with all the resources in the world, without leadership the downward spiral cannot be averted. Other than that, I noticed that Steve didn’t have a lot to say about the movie itself.

    Second off, I advise Mr. Kung, who has done a lot of reading about Churchill, not to watch this. Not only have I read that it is riddled with historical inaccuracies, but my Spider Senses were constantly tingling throughout the entire picture. It was a sense of unreality. It seemed doubtful that any of the dialogue, even in composite, had actually occurred.

    And I thought Oldman’s performance was vastly over-rated. For me, he did not begin to evince the character and nature of Winston Churchill. He came across as a slow, weak, drunken, indecisive man. Maybe Churchill resembled that in the early days of May. I don’t know. But I don’t trust this movie’s portrayal in the least.

    The movie is structured like a big-budget made-for-TV docudrama. You hit all the big points in passing — never too deep — and then move to some other historical marker. The condensed scenes about Churchill’s visit to France during the Blitzkrieg, and events surrounding the German invasion, are disjointed, sparse, and highly unilluminating.

    I didn’t know Clementine Churchill personally, but she seems miscast with Kristin Scott “The English Patient” Thomas. Not only that, there was no reason-for-being for that character. Her contributions are trivial and you’re left with little to no idea what their relationship was.

    I liked Samuel West as Sir Anthony Eden, although he didn’t have all the much to do either. In “The Crown,” the relationship between Churchill and his secretary is not unlike what we see in “Darkest Hour” but it’s so very much more convincing. Lily James as Elizabeth Layton in “Darkest Hour” is cheerfully bland and also has not much more to do but tap on her typewriter keyboard. Speaking of which, although the voice was all wrong, I thought John Lithgow in “The Crown” did a much better job of evincing the character and manner of Winston Churchill, although Lithgow portrayed him in his older years.

    Oldman lacks the majesty of Churchill. However (and forgetting whether or not they are historically accurate), the movie contains four good scenes:

    1) Churchill visiting the subway to gauge the opinion of the public

    2) Churchill then giving a rousing “no surrender” speech to his outer cabinet

    3) Churchill then giving a rousing “no surrender” speech to Parliament.

    4) In the midst of the above, Churchill telling Lord Hallifax to take a flying leap.

    An honorable mention would be the King coming to visit Churchill (presumably at #10) to tell him he was now on his side. Again, maybe this happened, but I seriously doubt that the King would have made a midnight call on #10.

    I have no idea to what extent Churchill was involved in negotiations for a “peace” settlement, but I think this movie takes plenty of liberties with this. From what I’ve read, Hallifax and others were working against Churchill behind his back through back channels to talk with Italy and or Germany. In this one, Churchill is shown to have all but given up on resistance and authorized formal peace talks…until he wanders into the subway and is roused by his own “never surrender” populace.

    The highlights of the movie are when resistance was galvanized. All the other stuff just seemed unreal. By the way, they should have cast Jeremy Northram as Lord Hallifax. He would have been splendid. The guy they had playing him was bland.

    Aside from historical inaccuracies and a muddled look at the events, I think I know why I fundamentally do not like this film. It was brought to mind when I read this piece of a fawning review:

    Above all, what impressed me most about the film was the fact that it’s just so funny. It’s by no means a comedy, but this isn’t a pompous and dry historical drama, but one that takes glee in pointing out the eccentricities in its main character, eccentricities which are undoubtedly a part of why Churchill is so lauded and respected to this day.

    That’s what this movie was all about. It turned Churchill into little more than a creature of eccentricities. His ideas, his strong backbone, are mere afterthoughts. Yes, he gives a speech or two in the House of Commons. And that’s fine. They are good speeches. But they are out of context with the rest of the movie which has decided to make a “character” out of him rather than to evince the man as he was in those times.

    Yes, Oldman as Churchill could be rude, quirky, angry and have eccentricities. But I’ve seen better portrayals of Churchill where all of these things came across as part of his character (mainly, not particularly suffering fools gladly). In this movie, he’s just “acting up” as if he were an out-of-control adult child.

    For what it’s worth, I think you’ll have a better understand of, and regard for, Winston Churchill if you do nothing more than read the free Kindle sample of the book, The Most Dangerous Enemy. If you are going to see “Darkest Hour,” read this first just so that you can have some idea how much of the real and inspiring Churchill was not included in the movie. He was a man of ideas and of a great vision for Britain and Western Civilization. And in “Darkest Hour” this does not come across at all. In “Darkest Hour,” he is just the uncertain man (with a history of screw-ups) who doesn’t know what to do until he visits and talks to the people in the subway.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Most reviews seem favorable, but some have zeroed in on the subway scene. The complaint is not the scene itself, even though it’s most likely fictional, but its effect on Churchill. Determination to resist Hitler probably came from Churchill, not to him.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I call them like I see them, Timothy. I thought the subway scene was a great piece of drama. That it was entirely fictional is a problem for a movie the purports to show a historical character.

        The movie was a mess. Was it about what to do as France was clearly teetering? No. Was it about Dunkirk? No. Was it about the political battle to succeed Chamberlain? No. Was it about what Churchill was like in his private life? No. If anything, all these elements were sprinkled in to the main story which was the battle between Quislings and hawks, with Churchill being the only hawk, the rest — well, we have no idea what the rest were thinking.

        This was at its heart a very superficial film. With a proper script, who cares if Oldman isn’t 100% Churchill? Not me. He was “good enough” for a TV-style biopic. I suspect there never was much of an attempt to capture the times and the man. This seemed more a revision meant for modern tastes. One reviewer called it “manipulated storyline to help childlike english to forget their history.” I don’t doubt there’s some truth to that.

        That it didn’t paint Churchill as a monster I suppose is a great success considering The Little Monsters that Leftism is creating. One reviewer writes:

        Once again Hollywood just runs rampant over History.

        Who’s voice is it that We hear when Winnie makes his famous speeches?

        BBC recordings show that it wasn’t Winston who as per usual was too drunk to address parliament – Norman Shelley’s voice made those speeches .. not Winston.

        Who was the first wartime leader who ordered bombs to be dropped on civilians? .. That’s right .. Winnie.

        Who told all the German civilians to move to Dresden, as it was a designated safe city? Why Winnie.. then when all the civilians where there .. they burned them alive.

        This idea of Shelley giving the speeches is debunked here. But perhaps we see why an honest history of the time is so important, if only because of the rampant lying and misinformation that exists today as Britain, and other Western countries, blot over their past.

        This is just a movie and a completely forgettable one. But it’s a shame they didn’t have a better conception of what they were trying to do.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          What’s interesting is that all that tempest in a teapot was not about the actual speech to Parliament, but a supposed recreation of it on radio. Even if Shelley (or some other actor) did it on radio, so what? Churchill did the original, which is what counted.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I have no idea to what extent Churchill was involved in negotiations for a “peace” settlement, but I think this movie takes plenty of liberties with this.

      In the some 4-5 million words I have read about Churchill, I have never come across even a hint that he was willing to come to any settlement with Germany, before or during the war.

      He was, very early on, (in the early–mid 1930’s) strongly anti-Hitler. And before that, he understood enough of German history to be concerned about the militaristic Prussian strain in the German nation to keep a wary eye on the country.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        In the some 4-5 million words I have read about Churchill, I have never come across even a hint that he was willing to come to any settlement with Germany, before or during the war.

        Oopsie. Well then, the entire movie is based on a lie then. Not good. I was not as deeply informed about Churchill as you. But this whole central part of the story seemed fictitious as I was watching it. And it seems it was.

        One reviewer writes:

        If Gary Oldham wanted to be Churchill, then he failed. Churchill was much more imposing, had a deeper voice with substantially more gravitas. Oldhams voice is thin and reedy and, at one point, he even adopts a regional accent. Churchill was a war monger, rude, inconsiderate, terribly ill mannered and selfish but would sacrifice himself in a second for the notion of service and empire. He was not your irascible but charming uncle as portrayed in this film.

        I think that was the Snowflakish sensibility behind at least part of this. Let’s make Churchill more human (your irascible but charming uncle). Let’s even totally bypass the fact that he had a very determined set of core beliefs and say that he found religion when he visited the common man in a subway car and gauged their mood (and only then was he sure that a negotiated peace was the wrong move). You see, he was thus a democrat, through and through. A man of the people.

        They do touch on the point, in passing, that “Churchill had been right about Hitler.” But most of this movie is like that. In passing. I’ve always thought the point of a movie isn’t to tell you but to show you. One scene to open this with Churchill giving a dire warning about Hitler, while others scoff at him, could have been enough to show this idea rather than to have someone spout one line in passing. But instead this movie is full of people giving one line that is a stand-in for a whole slice of important history.

        And the odd thing is, this is from a movie that purports to take a fine-grained look at just one month. But it doesn’t really, particularly given that so much of the content is 100% fictitious.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Churchill suffered politically because he was so strongly anti-Hitler and concerned about German militarism in general. He pushed to prepare for the future war which he saw coming, while virtually all his political colleagues did everything they could to appease the Germans.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            He pushed to prepare for the future war which he saw coming, while virtually all his political colleagues did everything they could to appease the Germans.

            I would have been absolutely thrilled if this biopic had concentrated on the reality of that. After all, this film wasn’t trying to tell the whole story but just a slice of it.

            Well, that section you noted would have been a grand slice to tell. But we get fake history, for the most part, instead of real history. There is certainly a strong sense of Churchill’s personality in this film (false though much of it appears to be). But there is little sense of place and time. There is very little action in this. The could have been (perhaps it was originally) a three-set stage play.

            Anyway, as soon as a movie starts jiggering with the truth in such a big way, it loses me. I don’t mind a little myth making, composite characters, or the need to condense the story. But falsifying the story and the character is another thing. And I think this movie is clearly guilty of both.

            Watch this at your own risk, Mr. Kung,, but I would love to be there when your eyes bulge out and the vein on your neck threatens to explode.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            That’s why they call the late ’30s his wilderness years. That’s where he was politically.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Manchester’s second volume covers these years for those who don’t wish to read the complete official biography.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Churchill was a war monger

          Over the years I have noticed an uptick in such anti-Churchill rhetoric all across the internet.

          Having studied this for some time now, I have come to the conclusion that much of this rhetoric is subtle and sometimes not so subtle anti-Semitism. The roots of this would appear to be a mixture of old and new thinking.

          Churchill was, no doubt, close the many Jews throughout his career. He was a proponent of a homeland for the Jews and pushed for allowing Jewish immigration to British controlled Palestine. But he didn’t start WWII and continue it because of the Jews.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Rewriting history because we stupid plebs have been fed nothing but false myth-making is in vogue now. Given how Dead White People are being denigrated regularly, how could Churchill not get caught up in that? That this movie only tries to turn him into a kindly old drunk uncle who is a “man of the people” is probably a victory considering what they could have done.

            I didn’t take exception to the “war monger” comment if only because there are only so many hours in the day. It takes a lot of time to parse idiocy or just ambiguous writing.

            I think Churchill was quite righty a “war monger.” But it was a specific war against a specific enemy (Nazi Germany). Churchill didn’t want to make war on Switzerland, Thailand, or Chile. And so the title of “war monger” is rightly gauged as an open-ended insult by Leftist bastards who generally consider it a war crime to defend oneself from aggression.

            But in the context, this reviewer said other sensible things so it’s hard to know if he had any nuance behind his idea of “war monger.” Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t.

            Lots of lots of posts and reviews I’ve read noted how Churchill hated “people of color.” Seems to me he must have hated white people first and foremost because his policies caused so many white Germans and white Italians to be killed.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              There is a quote attributed to Voltaire that’s appropriate here: “That animal is very naughty. When attacked, he defends himself.”

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Lots of lots of posts and reviews I’ve read noted how Churchill hated “people of color.”

              I suspect that the current Western appeasement of Muslims lays behind much of the criticism of Churchill. His clear and cogent appraisal of Islam must drive Muslims crazy. So they must attack him. And it should never be forgotten that the Nazis and Muslims had some close cooperation. Note, the Muslim SS divisions and Mufti of Jerusalem.

              As to hating “people of color”, one of Churchill’s main reasons for slow-pedaling the independence of India was his concern for the “Untouchables.” These people had been given some legal protection under the Raj.

              Churchill understood their position in Indian society and feared the higher castes would abuse the “Untouchables” mercilessly once British protection was gone.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                The Nazis did indeed work with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an anglophobe who, ironically, was appointed (I think back in the late ’20s) by the British (perhaps the first Labor government, which came around that time). They also appreciated the Muslim inclination toward jihad (a point that also comes up in Sarkhan by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick).

                On the other hand, in addition to the Bosnian and Albanian Muslims, the SS also took volunteers from most of the nationalities they had conquered (not the Poles or the Jews, though), including the French, Belgians, and Norwegians, as well as several Soviet nationalities.

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