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The Darkest Hour

I came to this film late and was determined neither to be influenced by the favourable reviews nor the more negative critique of this  organ and several friends.

The one scene that the latter did not like was that of Churchill on a tube.

I liked the scene and would say it was pivotal to the film.

The film is not a biopic of Churchill, it is a snapshot of few critical days in May 1940 at the time of Dunkirk when Britain’s  position looked so dire that to sue for peace was the only option.

If you want a more accurate account of this I would recommend Five Days in London: May 1940 by  John Lukacs. I was once at a dinner with close friends, one deeply  knowledgeable on most things.

Conversation turned to Churchill’s attitude to peace negotiations in May 1940. My friend left the room and his wife commented “Where has he gone?” . He returned  with the slim Lukacs volume which I read with great interest.

This film is not accurate in other ways apart from the supposed tube journey.

Kirstin Scott Thomas, a brilliant actress, in her portrayal of Clementine does not reflect Churchill’s wife’s nervous disposition , it is unlikely he had such an intimate relationship with his young secretary as given his extraordinary working hours he had more than one.

Ironically Hitler did have just one Frau Junge who lived to a ripe old age and was a fertile source of information on the Fuhrer. These errors of fact are marginal to the film’s real message namely that we all must thank Churchill not just for his indomitable spirit but for reading Hitler so well. He knew that the terms of any peace agreement would never be honoured and this would be the end of this country or as my father once put it  to me “But for Churchill we would have been all rounded up on Hampstead Heath”.

My own memories began in the sixties with a programme about him called The Valiant Years and huge box set of the recordings of his speeches.

Most of all and like so many great leaders he understood the people he led. No he was not on the tube but yes he would go to the East End when the blitz was at its worst and was deeply moved when one of its hardy citizens said : “We can take it Winnie.” This was the whole point of the tube scene, he was fortified by a spirit which JP Priestley said in 1940 was the finest expression of the British people he had ever witnessed.

As for the acting Gary Oldman was immense in his role.

He did not just deliver the speeches with great  aplomb he got the hand movements the raised fist, the waving arm.

It was good to see that excellent actor whom I reviewed in Day of the Jackal Ronald Pickup as Chamberlain.

Christopher Nolan and Joe Wright have interpreted the Second World War for a new generation.

In a world where the most minute defect of any politician is devoured by our hungry media I hope the younger generation appreciate that Winston Churchill may well be flawed – he was wrong on Gallipoli, the Gold Standard, the Royal Abdication and India – a functioning alcoholic and was not a Conservative between 1904 and 1924 but without him they may not be enjoying the film at all.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts