8 September 2018



'He's just launched the English language and sent it into war.'

'Have you never seen the Prime Minister ride the Underground before?'

'Madam, I must warn you that I am coming out of the bath now in a state of nature...!'

One might easily be forgiven for thinking that Winston Churchill, from now on referred to here as Winnie to save my typing finger, lol, won the Second World War for the British on the power of speech alone. He was a great man for the old speeches.

We'll fight 'em on the beaches, in the fields, in the streets, on the lavvy, in the pantry, down the shops, behind the bins, round the side of the Bingo hall, down past the British Legion and outside the Odeon on half-price for pensioners and schoolies days. Anywhere we've a bally well mind to, in fact, and the devil take the hindmost.

He could speechify till the cows came home, could Winnie, and in DARKEST HOUR we get to study close-up this particular talent of his. It's the story of Churchill's early days as Prime Minister only, so if you're expecting the film to take you all the way to the end of the war to VE Day and maybe even beyond, you'll be disappointed.

It's not a biopic of Winnie either. When we meet him, he's already fully formed as the bald-ish, white-haired, portly cigar-chomping pin-striped and watch-chained old Panzer tank so familiar to us by now. It wouldn't surprise us at all if he'd emerged from his mother's womb thus garbed and already barking orders and making speeches.

The Opposition Labour party has just demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Neville 'Peace In Our Time' Chamberlain, wonderfully played here by lovely old actor Ronald Pickup. He's not aggressive enough to take on the full might of the Nazi party. The only Prime Minister the Labour Opposition will accept in his place is Winnie, much to the disgust and alarm of the King and Winnie's fellow Conservative Party politicians.

They all seem to uniformly loathe him as untrustworthy and a loose cannon with a bad reputation carried over from the First World War. (He'd overseen the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.) He's also got a reputation for being brusque and shouty and he doesn't suffer fools lightly. Well, should he have to, lol...?

The King is, by his own admission, afraid of Winnie, who's said to have 'a hundred new ideas a day, only four of which are any good.' Well, I think four good new ideas a day is pretty bloody decent going actually. If I only had one good new idea in a day, or even in a week, I'd consider myself to be doing pretty well...!

Anyway, Winnie is plunged into power at the height of Hitler's successes in World War Two. Countries all over Europe are falling like dominoes under the heel of the mighty jackboot and the government of England is genuinely afraid that England will be invaded soon and, not only invaded, but conquered as well. It's a horrible thought.

Politicians all around Winnie, like Chamberlain and Halifax, are all for negotiating a peace treaty with Hitler, of all people, using Mussolini's Italian Ambassador Giuseppe Bastianini as an intermediary. This is a terrible idea, as Mussolini is Hitler's staunch ally at this stage of the war and would hardly be impartial, would he? Winnie says bollocks to all that, in any case.

He thinks seriously about changing his mind, however, when the situation in France becomes critical. 300,000 British soldiers are trapped at Dunkirk and Calais in France and the mighty Wehrmacht is coming for them. There'll be a mass slaughter if they, the British government, don't get their men out of there fast.

Unknown to Winnie and the rest of the British public at this point, one of the most spectacular wartime rescues ever is about to be effected at Dunkirk. In the meantime, though, the troops there are sent a telegram saying that they will not be evacuated. If this bit is bleak and grim beyond words for the viewer to endure, just think how the poor soldiers must feel. 

No help is forthcoming from their own country, their own government that's sworn to protect them, and they just have to make do as best they can? They're on their own, in other words? Flaming Nora. How perfectly bloody terrifying.

Winnie gives his official driver the slip one day and takes the London Underground to Westminster, chatting to the ordinary people of Britain as he does so and eliciting their opinions on whether Britain should capitulate to the Nazi Juggernaut or go on fighting to the death to keep the filthy Hun- excuse my French!- out of good old Blighty for now and for ever.

He goes back to Parliament completely enervated and re-inspired by the simple honesty of Joe and Josephine Bloggs. (Although the bit on the subway is a bit mushy and even, dare I say, unbelievable.) There will be absolutely, positively no surrender. Britain will not bow to the fearsome might of the Nazi war machine and that's bloody well that. End of story.

He gets the whole of Parliament all riled up and on his side, willing to fight to the death. That's all well and good though, but what about the poor lads still stranded in Dunkirk? Don't worry about those guys. Winnie's got a cunning plan. It's all hands to the pump now...

Gary Oldman, who played Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola's stunning 1992 adaptation of Bram Stoker's book, undergoes an Academy Award-winning transformation to play Churchill here. A few tweaks to the costume and make-up and he could have played Alfred Hitchcock as well!

I wasn't thrilled about the way the film-makers seemed to be portraying Winnie as a laughable buffoon in the beginning. This film is called DARKEST HOUR and is supposed to be showing us Winnie's- and Britain's- reactions to the bleakest period of World War Two, when Hitler was winning all around him and threats of a British invasion were very real.

Still, he's not a buffoon for long. Once he's out of those bloody pyjamas and dressed in his street clothes and behind his desk at Westminster yelling orders at frightened, scuttling employees, Britain's favourite bulldog has all the teeth you could wish for.

His wife Clementine, played here by Kristin Scott Thomas, is very supportive of him, even to the point of knowing that she and her children will always have to play second fiddle to Daddy's Very Important Work. Britain Comes First, as I suppose she has to during this, her 'darkest hour.'

Lily James, who's just portrayed the writer Juliet Ashton in wartime romantic drama THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, is pretty much a non-entity in the film as Winnie's whey-faced secretary Miss Layton. You can expect to be seeing a lot more of her in the future, though, as she seems to have replaced Kiera Knightley as the go-to whey-faced English girl in period dramas.

The saddest bit in the film, apart from the Dunkirk bit, is the way that Winnie turned to American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for help over the telephone and FDR more or less replied with, 'um, sorry, Winnie, but it's, um, kind of not our problem and besides, we don't really have the equipment but, um, if there's anything else we can do- crackle, crackle- Winnie, you're breaking up there, I can't hear you and I've got to go anyway, Ellie's just brought in my dinner, crackle crackle, goodbye!' Just you wait till Pearl Harbour, mate. Just you wait.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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