Film: Darkest Hour - good but flawed

  • Jo Siedlecka, Francis Beckett

This powerful film, directed by Joe Wright, focusses on Winston Churchill as he became Prime Minister in 1940. The Nazis are rolling across Europe. The threat of invasion is imminent. The country is completely unprepared. 300,000 British troops are trapped in northern France. Many parliamentarians urge him to explore a negotiated peace with Hitler, but Churchill is determined to stand firm and fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation.

Gary Oldman is amazing as the 65-year-old Churchill, cigar smoking throughout, anxious, cantankerous, warm and brilliant in turn. "He wasn't their first choice but he became their last hope" the titles read. Ronald Pickup strongly resembles the ailing Neville Chamberlain, Ben Mendelsohn has the dignified King George VI's faltering speech impediment down to a tee, and Kristin Scott Thomas is the wise and supportive wife throughout.

The film includes some historic film footage, and some of the script comes directly from very familiar parliamentary speeches - which gives the film a strong sense of authenticity, although there are a few incidents that are pure fiction - Churchill didn't take a tube ride to Westminster and ask passengers what they thought about surrendering to the Germans - then relay this back to Parliament.

Author Francis Beckett, who has written biographies of many politicians, including Aneurin Bevan, Clement Atlee and Harold Macmillan, attended the screening and comments on this on his Facebook page:

"….Gary Oldman brilliant as Churchill, Ronald Pickup even better as Neville Chamberlain, so the film can be forgiven its occasional minor tampering with the precise facts of history - but it can't be forgiven one big, fat falsehood.

Churchill didn't stand alone in 1940 against the war cabinet with only King George V1 for support. He stood alone against the rest of the war cabinet with only the Labour leader, Clem Attlee, and Attlee's deputy, Arthur Greenwood, for support.

The key figure in enabling Churchill to resist those who wanted him to sue for peace was Attlee. Churchill knew that - that's why he retained all his life, despite their opposition, so lively an affection and respect for Attlee. Yet the film airbrushes Attlee right out of the story. We only see him for a few seconds at the start, speaking in Parliament on a motion of no confidence in Neville Chamberlain.

Ironically, that's one speech he didn't actually make - he was ill, and Greenwood made it instead (hence "Speak for England, Arthur.")

There was no dramatic need for this distortion. The story would have had as much dramatic impact if the truth had been told.

Perhaps I am a conspiracy theorist, but I do wonder what the subtext is, now of all times, for airbrushing the Labour leader out of this bit of our history."

Darkest Hour is released in the UK on 12 January 2018

See a trailer here:

Francis Beckett's latest book is: Fascist in the Family, published by Routledge September 2016. For more information, see:

Tags: Film, World War II, Kristin Scott Thomas, Churchill, Francis Beckett, Gary Oldman, World War II,

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