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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

At the Movies: "The Darkest Hour"

In the interest of full disclosure, I reveal that I am a sucker for Churchill movies; I gotta watch'em all. As long as I can remember, I have had a fascination for the European political scene from the end of WWI to about 1940. It is staggering how many lessons for today that period contains. In particular, I find extremely interesting the ups-and-downs of Churchill's career as he tried to recover from the infamy attached to him (some rightly, some wrongly) for the Gallipoli campaign, and his political flip-flops. The story gets even more interesting once it becomes increasingly clear that years of arms treaties, disarmament, and appeasement in the face of tyranny had produced war. Churchill, of course, is the prime example of the brave loner who speaks out and warns and warns and warns about the impending disaster. In the end, of course, he wasn't in on the take-off, but he sure got asked to take care of the crash landing.

OK, on to this latest Churchill movie. In "The Darkest Hour," Oldman puts on an incredible and nuanced performance as Churchill. I have never particularly cared for Oldman, but this is a stellar performance. The problem with many other Churchill movies is that it's easy to engage in caricature, to wit, the gruff curmudgeon, but Oldman shows Churchill as a complex flawed man obsessed with saving his beloved England from the Nazis and from the unimaginative dolts in the British government and military. The movie also does not make FDR, in pre-Lend-Lease days, look too good. Fair enough.

I'll give it 4 out of 5 stars. I don't give it the full much-coveted Diplomad five-star rating, thus far, given only to "Dirty Harry," "Zulu," "Raising Arizona," and "Die Hard."

I found the cinematography murky, at times, even muddy. Perhaps the makers were going for a natural light look, but, jeez, the film was hard to watch at times since it was so dark and even blurry. The CGI was of the cartoonish sort, and, I guess, meant only to be symbolic rather than an accurate rendition of German aircraft on bombing runs.

I would have given it 4¾ stars if not for the silly, PC, and historically fake scene in the London underground which has Churchill consulting with a casting call depiction of "the working class," including an interracial couple, on whether Britain should fight or give in. The black Caribbean immigrant, of course, helps Churchill finish the quotation from, I believe, the St. Crispin's Day speech. This is nonsense required by our PC culture. Judging from what I have read by Orwell and other commentators of the time, it is not clear that the average working stiff was all that in favor of war to the death to save the "ruling elite." I don't really know, and would have to look for polling data of the time, and seek correction by those more knowledgable. Anyhow, the film shows Churchill coming back from his one-stop ride in the tube energized by working class support for defeating the Nazis, and ready to address the parliament in his "never surrender" speech,
You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.
 Oldman does a fantastic job of delivering that speech. I think Churchill would have been proud, and even envious.

Most of the other characters are also well-portrayed, especially Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill's adored and adoring wife, Clemmie, quite a character on her own--and the person who probably saved Churchill's career after Gallipoli.

Go see the film. It is much better than "Dunkirk" and does a very good job of laying out what a major bullet Western civilization dodged thanks to Winston Churchill.

41 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. I was going to skip it. I'll give it a shot now. ( Dunkirk really burned me , heh )

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  2. And yer, Obama couldn't tolerate Churchill's bust in the Whire House. Perhaps BO doesn't like leaders who lead?

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    1. Churchill was not a fan of the muslim faith in large, it's not a surprise the feelings are returned.

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  3. The population was against war. WWI had thoroughly shaken them (and no wonder). That's mainly why appeasement flourished - the politicians' fear of losing a general election. There was also the point that it would be impossible to fight Germany without a French alliance, and France was known to be in poor shape, deeply divided, and very reluctant to take action. (Though just how extremely poor a shape it was in came as a horrible shock in 1940).

    There was also a logical case for appeasement: if Hitler was a Bismarck rather than a Napoleon then it made no sense for Britain to fight him. Nobody could be certain he was a Napoleon until he invaded rump Czechoslovakia.

    After that, the Conservative government realised war was inevitable, accelerated rearmament and introduced conscription. The Opposition - the Labour Party - were still opposed to conscription until a few days after Hitler invaded Poland. Repeat AFTER.

    Most of the fuss about appeasement is an exercise in hindsight. My father, who had the foresight to see in 1936 that war was coming , did not mock the appeasers. He was confident that they were wrong, but not necessarily either wicked or foolish. He retained this view before, during, and after the war: he was certainly still of that view when, in the late fifties, we talked about those days.

    He went to war. I can remember his remarking once that he'd have been more impressed by the late-in-the-day anti-appeasers if more of them had gone to war too.

    I can also remember that when people were canvassing for the main political parties for the General Elections in the late fifties, voters were still often able to embarrass canvassers for the Labour party by demanding to know what they had done in the war. Many Labour voters had gone to war of course, but the party activists had been prone instead to find themselves cushy berths in "civvy street", and people in the fifties hadn't forgotten. I imagine it's pretty thoroughly forgotten now. (I dare say one motive for the activists to be loath to fight Hitler in 1939 was that by then he had Stalin as an ally.)

    By the way, reasons for the widespread distrust of Churchill extended far beyond the Gallipoli fiasco. He did, however, prove the man for the hour, thank goodness.

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  4. The only issue I have is, and this is from the previews we've been able to see, is that Oldman's "Never Surrender" speech is nothing like Churchill's; it's much more rousing than the phlegmatic report Churchill actually gave - or at least has been recorded in his voice.

    Hey, I'm a fan of Iron Maiden.

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  5. I too, have a fascination for the European political scene but from the beginning of the 20th century. The years before WW1, so important, so fascinating. But oh, not another film about Churchill. I see him as a very class-conscious aristocrat who never ever denied himself daily champagne, cognac and lavish dinners. "Victory at all costs" ? Well, he didn´t intend to pay any price personally. It was the working class men who had to make the sacrifices. I guess he saw them as cannon fodder and I agree with you, I don´t think he ever found any inspiration from someone in the London underground ( did he even know what that was ? ) , and definitely not from an interracial couple. He wrote and gave rousing speeches, he obviously loved risks, gamble,adventure, wars, but he never had any ideas about finances, education, housing, welfare etc so he was no success as a PM after the war. After the war Britain was very poor, a crumbling place.
    I visited the War museum in London with a very good guide. I saw the bedroom that WC was supposed to sleep in when there but the guide told us that he just did it a couple of times, it didn´t meet his standards. He had a chamber-pot under the bed,nice, little detail. ( I always look for the little details, his clothes, books etc ). The most endearing detail about WC is to me his great love of animals. That tells me something about his character. So underneath that aristocratic arrogance he probably could be a nice person. But the most competent politician that Britain has produced is in my opinion Margaret Thatcher. I would say, a person with her background and her steely character and traits would have been an excellent leader during WW2. Maybe better ?
    Swedish lady

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    1. " It was the working class men who had to make the sacrifices": what on earth makes you think so?

      "London underground ( did he even know what that was ? )": yeah, he thought it was a graveyard.

      "After the war Britain was very poor, a crumbling place": half-a-dozen years of socialist government didn't help much.

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    2. Swedish Lady, I agree with much of what you say. I, too, have great admiration for Thatcher and think she would have been a splendid war leader. I guess I am a fan of Churchill's because, despite his many flaws, he understood that Hitler had to be defeated. While true that without the United States the war would not have been won, without Britain it would have been lost. Churchill prevented that loss for the good of mankind.

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    3. "It was the working class men who had to make the sacrifices."

      Are you really not aware of the extremely high casualty rate, in both world wars, among the British upper classes?

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    4. DiploMad, imagine Mrs Thatcher meeting Stalin.He would not have an easy time. May I recommend an excellent film about a brief episode in the history, Aleksandr Sokurovs film "The Sun". When Emperor Hirohito met General McArthur. It is a sublime, understated film, a type of film shown in small cinemas with enthusiastic cineasts. It feels true.
      David Foster, I am aware that many, many officers ( from all classes ) died in WW1 because of the nature of that war. They had to lead their men towards the massacre on the other side of the trenches. I didn´t know that there was extremely high casualties among the British upper classes in WW2 though.
      Swedish lady

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    5. Diplomad, Churchill was also great because he recognized that Stalin was Hitler's equal in evil and tried his best to turn the traitor FDR back from the Dark Side of knob-slobbering all over Uncle Joe.

      For your edification: in execution, FDR's Lend-Lease did far more for the Soviets, even to the detriment of both England AND American troops in the field and at sea! Uncle Joe secured much of the rope he used to hang Eastern Europe, from an infatuated FDR.

      Read "American Tragedy" by Diana West. FDR's Administration was filled with communists and Soviet agents, very likely including "co-President" Harry Hopkins, who was so close to FDR, he moved into the White House and had his bedroom next to FDR's. Sort of an earlier version of Valerie Jarrett!.

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  6. Winston was really one of those "of the ages" warts and all. And he did have warts. One my favorites is his meeting with Smuts long after Churchill's escape from the Boers. Smuts (I think it was him) quipped that by putting a dead or alive price on Winston's head he had assured Churchill's political future.

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  8. A couple of comments about Churchill. I thought I had blown my medical school application interview when I was asked, "Who is the greatest man of the 20th century.?" I answered, "Churchill" and then thought I should have named some medical figure like Salk.

    Gallipoli was a failure of the Navy which flinched from losses in the Dardanelles and and left the dirty work to the Army. Churchill was correct about a second front then. When he was forced to resign, he entered the Army and went to the front.

    The British upper classes, contrary to dearie, were nearly wiped out in WWI.

    The Underground scene was a bit hokey but represented a visual way to present the information in Lukac's book, which the movie was based on, about the primitive polling that was covered quite a bit. The conclusion was that the "lower classes" were more supportive of the war or risk of war, than the upper classes and the aristocracy, much of which was defeatist.

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    1. I suppose the Navy did fail in that a full 1/3 of the ships weer disabled or sunk within the first day. I suspect you would have "flinched" from the losses as well. And as bad as the shore batteries were the minefields were much worse. Much of the failure of the Navy to attack Istanbul can be laid squarely at the feet of Churchill. He and the military completely underestimated the strength of the Turks and sent an inadequate naval force to subdue a land objective.

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  9. "The British upper classes, contrary to dearie ...": contrary to Swedish Lady you presumably mean.

    "The conclusion was that the "lower classes" were more supportive of the war or risk of war ...": then it would be hard to understand why politicians of the National Government were confident they'd lose at the polls if they re-armed vigorously.

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  10. Although Churchill did not invent the tank, he deserves much credit for pushing the idea through.

    It was somewhat unfortunate that they were initially called "landships" (though understandable, since initially built under Navy jurisdiction), since the name inspired mockery. Edward Spears, who was British liasion to the French Army in both world wars, says that when he mentioned these weapons to some French officers, there was much merriment along the lines of: "Wouldn't it be easier to just flood that battlefields and use the ships you already have?"

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  11. Oldman is one of my favorite actors. His roles in True Romance and 'The Professional' were awesome. Whatever one can say about Churchill, he had big brass ones. Bastard may well have been an alcoholic, but i hate to imagine what he would have accomplished had he been teetotaler. Plus he lived into his 90s!

    OT- but i hope diplomad will answer. I am a hillbilly and i have never had a close Jewish friend. For instance, not a single black or Jew attended my high school. I have noted that the Jews (even conservative ones) seem to hate Trump? You are the only exception i've come across. I am genuinely perplexed. I've tentatively concluded that white tribalism scares the hell outa them. Do you know what the hell is going on?

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    1. There are some excellent blogs by Trump-supporting Jews. I especially like Bookworm:

      http://www.bookwormroom.com

      and Seraphic Secret:

      http://www.seraphicpress.com

      ..the latter is written by Robert Avrech, who is not only an Orthodox Jew but a Hollywood screenwriter!

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    2. SidVic...also, re your question, see my post 'The Phobia(s) That May Destroy America', in which I observe the remarkable level of fear, contempt, and anger that many educated/urban/upper-middle-class people demonstrate toward Christians and rural people (especially southerners) and search for explanations:

      http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/50624.html

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    3. Well, we Southerners haven't given 'them' any reason to fear etc. Yet. That can change if enough becomes enough.

      Chicagoboyz are always an interesting peruse.

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    4. "I have noted that the Jews (even conservative ones) seem to hate Trump? You are the only exception I've come across." You need to get out more. Though the majority of AMERICAN Jews may dislike Trump, it's foolish to say "the jews seem to hate Trump." Certainly the Republican Jewish Coalition doesn't hate Trump and he is receiving favorable reviews in after his Jerusalem decision.

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  12. "not a single ... Jew attended my high school": this remark is hard for a Briton to follow. How would you have known that a fellow pupil was a Jew?

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    1. Good point. But mostly scot-irish mc..this and that. Alot of pale and freckled. You must remeber that US 2% Jewish and vast majority live in FL, NY and Ca. I think i read recently that north dakota was excited to recruit first rabbi.

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  13. For those of you who want to read a truly superb biography of Churchill, I recommend William Manchester's "The Last Lion" in 3 volumes. Manchester blasts away other biographers with flowing, nay lyrical, prose. Keep a dictionary handy too. The Underground scene in the movie is pathetic. Good review. I agree with your 5 stars but have "Apocalypse Now" "Pulp Fiction" "The French Connection" "Blade Runner" and "Saving Private Ryan" (just) in my 5 star group. Oh, and "The Watchmen" - in an unusual genre for me.

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    1. I would add The Sorrow and The Pity to any list of movies. Kinda hard to find and clocks in around four hours but gives a very enligtening look at France under German occupation.

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  14. Yours was the second good non-critic review I've heard on the movie. One of my parents' friends, a serious Churchill buff, saw it over the holiday and loved it. I think its now on my "to see" list. Thanks for posting your review.

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  16. Unrelated, but as I left my condo this morning for the office, my car outside temp thingy read -12F, which with wind chill factor, is about -24F. It occurred to me that today would be a great day to tie one of those annoying green activists to a tree for a few hours.

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    1. I was just thinking about doing a post on the topic 'what if we had gotten rid of all those eevil fossil fuels and were running the country on wind and solar, *right now*.....

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  17. I find any "historical" mice questionable at best. The idea that we can cram a lifetime or even a small portion of a lifetime and the motivations and influences on anyone or anything into a brief film strikes me as close to ludicrous. I would far rather read than watch and even we should remain cognizant of the fact that all see the world through both conscious and unconscious filters.

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  18. St. Crispin's Day speech? What are you smoking? He was quoting from "Horatius at the Bridge."

    Those who can't tell Shakespeare from Macaulay shouldn't throw accusations of fakery.

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    1. You are right and I am wrong. My excuse is that I did say I thought it was St. Crispin because at the moment I was leaning over to tell my wife the whole scene is "Fake! Fake, I tell you!" and didn't listen to the lines being recited. The scene is fake, by the way, I stand by that.

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  19. Welcome back, for a moment I thought the diplo-wife and progeny had exhausted the treasury. Churchill was one of the most complex personalities I have every studied, brilliant, self promoting and very conscious of his place in history - the one he wanted for posterity. Having attended a British School the news reels and history of the war were readily available to us in the library and I read most all I could find. That our teachers (English, Welsh and Scots) had fought in the war a scant 20 years prior gave us wonderful perspective.

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  20. Best review of this movie I've run across. I thought the subway scene felt fictitious and yes, very PC, but saw it as a plot device to show Churchill's perception that there was still fight in the British people, and that he knew they would support him.
    Also, I did recognize the quote as from 'How Horatius Kept the Bridge' while watching the movie, but went right past the misattribution in the post above!

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  21. Breaker Morant. should add it to the fives. just saying. Thanks for the read. js

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  22. I might as well chuck in my pennyworth. My wife's great grandfather was Admiral Lord Fisher who was First Sea Lord when Churchill was First Lord ( like your Secretary of the Navy). Fisher loved the flamboyance of Churchill but he was a pain in the butt to the Naval Staff. He assumed that he knew both tactics and strategy. He didn't. This was so obvious after Gallipoli which Fisher rightly opposed. Churchill advanced Admiral Beatty who was a Vice Admiral at 43, not because he had a record of achievment but because he was rich and played polo. He might have made an excellent commander of the Light Brigade at the Charge of the Light Brigade but not of the Battle Cruiser Fleet at Jutland. I personally execrate Beatty.
    I was 5 when the war started. My parents lived in an apartment in Mayfair. When the Blitz started they took me and my younger brother down into the Oxford Street underground for shelter. Later we became quite blase and stayed in bed when the sirens went.
    Of course Churchill knew what the underground was. He wasn't rich, although from a noble family he was far down the pecking order, he had no title and no money other than that which he earned. He made his living from writing, he had no private
    income.
    Unlike the US it was, and still is, a matter of honour and duty for the sons of the upper classes (the aristocracy is very small) to go into the Army. The upper middle into the navy. The eldest son of the squirearchy inherited, the next went into the army and the next into the church. I went, with some success, into the navy. Remember your (US) middle class is our working class, and the divide between our middle class and upper middle class is as wide as that experienced by Lazarus.
    Churchill was a great man. Only great men can have flaws and rise above them.
    I will finish on one anecdote about Jackie Fisher, no perhaps two. Not only did he as 1SL introduce the Dreadnoughts, thus making obsolete all the world's Navies (though they soon caught up) he headid the Admiralty when it decided that in future all Royal Navy ships would run on oil. A few days before this was announced, he bought a lot of Shell shares! He'd be banged up nowadays. I'm glad he did, it bought my first married home.
    Finally, in his dotage, he was befriended by, and was smitten by a Lady Hamilton. He decided that this was his destiny and he would die in her arms rather like Nelson who might have liked to but didn't. Lady Fisher was having none of it and hauled him home, and no doubt gave him a good talking to.


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    1. Nice comment - appreciated. Today I managed to get a letter into the local paper, replying to an attack on Churchill as a "military dilettante" in WW2. My final line "the reality of total war is much different to that of an armchair critic". Churchill was PM, not battlefield commander, his role was to repeatedly kick the buggers up the arse.

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  24. Lewis, I'm sorry this took so long. After I read your post I thought you might like a small Winston token which seemed appropriate since he serviced twice as the First Lord of the Admiralty . I work for the Department of the Navy in Norfolk, VA. This is also where the USS Winston S Churchill (DDG 81)is home ported. And given your fondness for Winston I took the liberty and got you a ships ball cap. I just need to know where to send it. Let me know, timothy.mccann@navy.mil

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