I went to see The Darkest Hour on a grey January Dundee afternoon and it had a profound impact. In fact it did the impossible – got me to change my mind about a couple of things on which I had had very strong opinions!
But first the film itself. The star of course is Gary Oldman as Churchill it is impossible to describe how good he is in it – you will have to go and see for yourself. He IS Churchill. If he does not get the Oscar it will only be because Hollywood has become so PC as to render its honours system virtually meaningless. Kirstin Scott Thomas as his wife, Clementine is also excellent. As is Lilly James as his secretary.
It is the direction of Joe Wright that really makes the film. He tells the story superbly and uses images of light and darkness beautifully. You get a real feel for the danger that the UK, and indeed the whole Western World was in. The story is tied up of course with Churchill and his relationship with the King, his own party, his secretary and Chamberlain and Halifax. It is an absolute tour de force that keeps you gripped from the beginning. Perhaps the one weakness was the scene on the Tube, but on this occasion I think a bit of dramatic licence in order to make a point is justified!
I found it incredibly emotional. I am not ashamed to say that at points I was weeping. And I’m not really a weeper. Why? Because I was so thankful for the deliverance we experienced in 1940. The scene with the hundreds of small boats heading for Dunkirk was so moving (and a far better portrayal of what actually happened than the film Dunkirk shows – see my review of that here) And here is where I feel compelled to change my mind on two things. I know this was just a film and there is a danger in reacting emotionally and allowing the mind to be changed through the heart – but sometimes emotion comes because of what you have been thinking. This film just made some things clear to me and untangled some of the thoughts and prejudices I had. Its not often I say it but I was wrong but I will confess to having been wrong on two things.
Firstly my opinion of Churchill. I have read several biographies of Churchill and all of them led me to be proud of my own city of Dundee, for rejecting him as MP. There were aspects of his policies and character that were, to put it mildly, unattractive. However the film makes it clear (and put in a dramatic form what I already knew from studying the history) that if it were not for Churchill, Britain would have been defeated by Germany – and who knows what then would have happened in the world?! It would certainly be a very different one today! Halifax as Prime Minister would probably have negotiated a surrender. It was Churchill’s understanding of Hitler, and his determination to make a stand (although his self-doubt and drunkenness are also portrayed on the film), which made the difference. I am now forced to admit I was wrong about Churchill and he was, in the grace of God, the man for this darkest hour.
And then there is my opinion of the UK. For many years I have been a convinced Scottish nationalist, not because I was opposed to the UK or anti-English but because I believe small nations should govern themselves and I thought the union of the kingdoms was probably finished – given that the foundations upon which it was based have largely been removed. However this film reminded me of why the United Kingdom has overall been a good thing for the world and its dissolution would not be a good thing – at least not at this stage in history. (I certainly don’t want Scotland to be ‘independent’ if we are exchanging our role in the UK for dependence on the EU!) Maybe I was wrong about it being the time for the UK to dissolve. The Darkest Hour made me realize just how much this United Kingdom has had to offer the world – and how close we came to losing it just a few decades ago. Maybe there is something yet worth preserving?
For me this was a profound and beautiful film. It reminded me that we can experience great darkness and yet the light of Christ can overcome all. It also reminded me of the need for great leadership – at all levels. I cannot help but contrast our current political leaders with Churchill – that is enough to make anyone weep!
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5).
The cream on the cake was the Churchill quote at the very end. It’s a great motto for ministry, for the Christian life and for the church.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts”
In case you havn’t quite picked it up – this is a five star film – if its still on at a cinema near you then make sure you see it this week. You will not regret it.
You could also read this fine review from Crawford Mackenzie
And this one from Martin Saunders