Hurry up, folks, and see Darkest Hour, the new film about the earliest days of Winston Churchill’s leadership of Britain as Prime Minister, before it leaves the theaters! (It should still be showing through the end of the year at independent theaters; we saw it last night at one such place. If you live in the Denver area you can see it there: the Chez Artiste Theater near Colorado Boulevard and Evans Avenue. After the movie you can just walk over to the India Oven Restaurant for a wonderful meal.) If you don’t see it in time, buy Darkest Hour.
I wanted to see the film because of Gary Oldman’s performance, and it’s well worth seeing just for that reason and for the rest of the cast. (Downton Abbey fans will recognize the actress who plays Churchill’s secretary: it’s Rose! But with dark hair.)
There have been some naysayers about the film’s portrayal of Churchill’s agonizing over his choices and his wavering over the possibility of making peace with Hitler, which is actually the point of the film. (Are ya listening, naysayers?) Churchill the monolith who always knows exactly what to do isn’t very interesting, human, or realistic. As my husband says, most WWII stories are told backward-lookingly, with no real understanding of what it was like to be in that historical moment and have no idea how things were going to turn out. Hitler’s march across Europe seemed unstoppable; countries were falling one after another to the German army. Wouldn’t it be better to sue for peace and not be the next on the list? It was a real temptation, even for people who knew better and who in the end refused to yield.
There’s a very telling scene in which Churchill phones President Roosevelt to ask for help and is told that the US can’t give him any, by law. What about the ships that Britain has already bought? Sorry, can’t deliver them to you directly by any form of motorized transport. You could, Roosevelt tells him, pull them across the Canadian border using horses and then take them from there. (I’d love to know if this conversation ever took place—probably not—and if horses were ever used—almost certainly not. Any history buffs out there who’d like to look that up for me?) Churchill bangs down the phone and sits staring into space. He’s on his own.
Any reference to this time in American history always reminds me of my mother, who came to Washington D.C. during the period of our Lend/Lease agreement with Britain, something put in place later than the time of the film. There she was, a 20-year-old girl from the small town of Campville, Florida (now swallowed up by Jacksonville), having gone to Martha Berry College for one year and then come home and worked at the town’s soda fountain. (I was never able to understand completely why she didn’t stay at college; MBC was structured so that you worked for one semester and then attended classes for one, with the first paying for the second, so it shouldn’t have been a matter of money. And my mom seemed to have nice memories of the place. As you can see if you follow the link, it’s still around.) Her older sister was living in D.C. and wrote to her saying, “Come to Washington. There are lots of jobs, and you can live with us.” So she took the train to the big city and ended up working at the Department of the Treasury, on one side of the White House. Much later on, my husband worked in the Old Executive Office Building, on the other side of the WH. A matched set, as it were.
Anyway, it’s always instructive to look back at times when all seemed lost but there were people who were willing to take a stand anyway. There was no prospect of any kind of lasting peace with Hitler because of the kind of person he was. It didn’t matter what he said, and it didn’t matter that he might have done some things that were good for Germany at least in the short term. He was a monster. And the sooner everyone understood that, the better.
Anyway, try to see the movie in a theater, if you can, but rest assured that it will soon be available online. Well, well, well worth your time! And if you didn’t see Dunkirk yet, it’s now out on DVD through Amazon. (Affiliate link alert.) A great companion piece to this film, and one that you can now watch at home. Hey, you need something to do while you’re digesting Christmas dinner!