Darkest Hour ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
British actor Gary Oldman has played Beethoven and Dracula on the screen and now he plays Winston Churchill in the new movie, Darkest Hour. Winston Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain in May of 1940, almost by default, when the country and its politicians were unhappy with the way the elderly Neville Chamberlain was managing the war with Germany.
As the new British Prime Minister in 1940, Winston Churchill had an almost impossible job on his hands. He had a brusque, bullying manner, and a lot of people, even people in his own political party, didn’t like him. As King George V says to him, “You scare people. You scare me.” Personality problems were the least of his worries, though. Germany had assembled the largest fighting force in the history of the world, they were superior in tanks, air power and weaponry, and they were winning the war against the Allies. They were conquering all of Western Europe and were invading France, only forty miles across the English Channel from Britain’s shores. German invasion seemed inevitable. It seemed the war was already lost. American forces were not able to help at this point because, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt tells Churchill, “my hands are tied” by the Neutrality Act. The U.S. wouldn’t enter the war until the stakes became higher.
Britain could fight it out and almost certainly be crushed. Germany would very likely annihilate the entire country and its culture and then step in and make it its own. The other alternative was a “negotiated peace” with Germany, which “Hitler’s puppet,” that delightful fellow, Benito Mussolini of Italy, would help to facilitate in Venice between Britain and Germany. This amounted to a surrender, which a lot of powerful politicians (including former Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain) advocated. They were unable to understand why Churchill would not even entertain the idea of “peace talks” with Germany.
The best scene in Darkest Hour (or, anyway, my favorite scene) is when Churchill, who has almost decided that capitulation to Germany is the only way to keep Britain from being crushed, goes off on his own and rides the “Underground” (London’s subway). While on the train, he meets and engages in conversation with some of the “common people,” bricklayers and housewives. He asks them what they think about negotiating an end to the war with Germany, mostly on German terms. Would these common people like for their country to become a puppet state of Nazi Germany? Would they like to see a swastika flying from Buckingham Palace? Their answer is clear: We will never surrender! Churchill then gives his famous speech to Parliament, in which he states irreconcilably: We will go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to rescue and the liberation of the old.
If you, like me, are fascinated by the high drama of World War II, where truth is truly stranger than fiction, you will love Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman dominates the screen every second as Winston Churchill. If those dumbbells in Hollywood don’t award him an Oscar, they might as well fold their tents and go home.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp