I’m a bit of a snob, that’s incontestable. And it can manifest itself in several ways, one of which is an unedifying arrogance about certain aspects of our history. Films that touch on areas I have studied, or read about, or been fascinated by need to do one of two things: reinforce the notion that I know what I’m talking about or reveal to me something that is both unexpected and patently true.
Darkest Hour, yet another WW2 drama – there seems to be a glut right now – deals with a few days in May/June 1940 when continental Europe was rocking, the British Expeditionary Force was being driven back to the coast by the fast moving German army and the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain lost the confidence of the House of Commons and the Country. As history relates, this was the time when Winston Churchill, very much outside the inner circle was drawn back to lead the Tory party and the unity government formed with the support of the other parties. He wasn’t trusted by many of his Tory colleagues any more than by a lot of the opposition and he was thrown in to a chaotic situation.
The film follows those early days, of the dilemma over Dunkirk and how to save as many of the retreating British Troops as possible and then the need to find support and a pathway forward. It tells of how close the Government was to suing for peace through the intermediary of Mussolini in Italy and how, finally, Churchill determined that the way forward was to stand alone.
Let me say, without fear of contradiction that the acting is sublime. Gary Oldman is superb, Kirsten Scott-Thomas as Clementine Churchill excellent and the supporting cast fabulous. Some performances are worthy of awards, for sure.
It’s quite dry; no bombing of London yet, no real threats to Churchill or any of the bigwigs and a lot of typing and dictation and speech giving and cabinet meetings. Are meetings ever going to be interesting. Can you list your top ten meetings in film?
But the backdrop, with its world-forming events of the second half of the 20th century unwrapping like an unwanted Christmas present before our eyes is compelling.
It should have been a great pleasure this; it should already be lurking in the top three films of 2018 whatever else is to come.
But it isn’t.
It grated. It oversimplified. If you believe this film all the Tories hated Churchill and all the Opposition loved him and that’s why he held sway. Rubbish, he had support and detractors on both sides. Or that he was about to cave into pressure to treat for peace until he caught a tube on his own for the first time ever and in the space of one extended journey of one stop on the District line took soundings of the British people that, with the unexpected support of George VI, changed his mind. Oh come off it. The man was an aristocrat at heart, not a man of the people. He was no more likely to be in a Tube on his own, taking soundings that formed his policies than Adolf Hitler painted his toenails in the German national colours. The House of Commons portrayed looked nothing like the building I’ve seen and which is represented in many paintings. Churchill, we are expected to believe, is told by his secretary, a woman who two days before was so traumatised that she nearly ran away in terror, what the two fingered salute he made famous means to the local East Enders (which is a different meaning to that I learnt at school twenty years later – maybe…). At the end, when he gave his ‘we will fight them on the beaches speech’ to Parliament we see both his wife and the King listening to it in their apartments: how? Parliament wasn’t broadcast until the 1980s. Or that the whole of the Tory MPs waited for Chamberlain to lift up his handkerchief before indicating their support which was then unanimous and oh so choreographed…
Maybe I’m wrong; maybe all these things are historically accurate and noted down somewhere. Maybe someone will point out the error of my ways. The trouble with this is, I just don’t believe it. It’s Churchill anime, Disneyfied. It should have been filmed in black and white because it was about as nuanced as a dog’s fart.
Shame, because Oldman really is tremendous, easily the best Churchill I’ve seen. But then I never saw him so what do I know.