The Darkest Hour – A Film that Changed my Mind

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 downloadaspects 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 

20 thoughts on “The Darkest Hour – A Film that Changed my Mind

  1. David, I’m just so impressed with your review of this film, which just shows your ability to be open-minded, fair and willing to change your stance on current affairs. Last Sunday (in Melbourne Australia) we heard a message about Samson (Judges 14) and how God uses flawed, sinful and messed up people to achieve his sovereign purposes. Perhaps Churchill is just another example of that. Also so thrilled that you were reminded of the blessings of being a United Kingdom as for many years I’ve served alongside Irish, Welsh and Scottish Servicemen in our Armed Forces (plus Gurkhas and Commonwealth soldiers). Contrast this with the antics of Nicola Sturgeon, who now wants to ban the flying of the Union flag on HM The Queen’s Birthday and at other times without written permission.

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  2. David, thanks for this excellent review, which reinforces my own thoughts. I would like to add though that apart from ‘being the right man at the right time’ and despite some poor decisions in the past (depending of course on your point of view) Churchill was uniquely placed to recognise the threat from Nazi Germany because he had studied the life of his ancestor John Churchill the First Duke of Marlborough and wrote a detailed analysis about his role in combatting Louis XIV’s attempts to dominate Europe. He saw very clear parallels between that time and the situation in 1940 and therefore had a unique insight into the strategic and moral importance of what was happening in Europe. With regard to Scottish Independence I have followed your blog despite your approach until now, because I think you basically talk a lot of sense. It is a tragedy that in seeking independence scots would diminish the UK which I believe is a force for good in the world, and also diminish themselves, preventing able Scots from contributing as they have done. I have long thought it a parochial niggardly view of things and am still dismayed that so many otherwise thoughtful and intelligent people succumb to the manipulation of the nationalist.

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  3. I haven’t seen the film so I can’t comment on that but I find it strange that a film would make you believe that Westminster would suddenly become more capable in its administration of Scottish affairs or more considerate in the ways UK policies are likely to affect Scotland.

    Yes, Churchill was both good and bad (aren’t we all?) and Britain has done both good and bad. I am unsure what you feel Britain’s role in the world should be exactly. Following WWII our foreign policy has generally been that of hitching a bandwagon to American policy. Do we offer something distinctly British? If so, what is it and why should we care? I still think that is something that British patriots need to make a better case for, and it is certainly an argument I would welcome hearing.

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    1. Of course you find it strange that a film would make me believe that Westminster would suddenly become more capable in its administration of Scottish affairs or more considerate in the ways UK policies are likely to affect Scotland. Because I don’t believe that. Maybe you should read what I was saying again and respond to what I actually said?

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  4. You seem to be on something of a political journey, David – Douglas Murray, Rod Liddle, Jordan Peterson, er, Winston Churchill.

    The Christian roots of the old Labour party have long been forgotten. It was a mixture of Christian compassion and quiet patriotism. Labour is now entirely about identity politics and, like all the main political parties, has abandoned the working class.

    I understand the point you’re making about Churchill. Perhaps we do see God’s hand in those who become unlikely heroes in our time of need. Very much a Biblical theme. We see the confusion sown with our enemies – Hitler’s inexplicable decision to invade the Soviet Union, Pearl Harbour. Perhaps we’ve never acknowledged the debt we owe to God in delivering us from evil.

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  5. I saw a 1940-parallel in the No vote, given the prevention of a horrifying racism that decided me to No. The citizenship rules Yes was offering were actually going to make citizenship by parental descent refusable. That is racist national purism, and against human rights on family life (ECHR article 8) and I slapped a petition in to the EU citing so, which remains there always as a usable resource (1448/2014), challenging that a Scottish state operating that policy will be an international pariah racist state that must be sanctioned and shunned.

    Though I should be that glad of your conversion to No, instead I’m horrified by the cause of it. The Churchill legend is generationally unjust, it has caused a lot of social misery and wrecking of family life as it is part of generation bashing, the evil of ego snobbery about WW2 used to bash everyone born after it and lord over and sneer at us. Yah-boo you would not cope with it as well as us and you will never get the chance to show otherwise. Even Darkest Hour’s title is generation bashing, and it is one of a manipulative series of traditional-patriotic WW2 films that have come out since the Brexit vote, to spin us back into that type of nationalist nonsense mindset.

    The person who has most credit is Dowding, he led keeping the coastal airfields going and did not allow Churchill to to sacrifice the whole air force defending France. We did not stand alone, we were never without allies for a single day: Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, were all independent from 1931, from when a British law could only apply to a “Dominion” with its own consent. But anyway the emotional encouraging of perceiving history as swinging on one person is always irrational. Churchill had the most senior cabinet ministry history in the pro-war faction, the rest of them also existed and that’s why he was in office, other pro-war politicians of both major parties had put him there, he couldn’t have got into office if he was a lone figure. He was a Cabinet minister’s son and aristocrat born before universal suffrage, who got his political career dynastically, following those of several ancestors – it would be impossible for a special unique magic man, who just happened to live at the right time, to also luckily just happen to be born into that background! He would be born into the Victorian working class and never be heard of.

    Prewar, those of them who were right about the German threat still failed the situation and the country by not giving a public with recent memory of WW1 any mercy on methods of war. They knew from Gallipoli he was not the greatest. He flatly refused all question of helping German conspiracies to overthrow the Nazis, which means prolonged their regime and the holocaust. This actually risked defeat! by giving them time to develop the V2, and sacrificed Eastern Europe, and risked the D-day landings failing or not getting the right sailing window that year, as well as their cost in lives. All on the vain failed calculation that military defeat of Germany would break it long term economically !! from getting strong again.

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  6. I read a review on the Movieguide site which said, “Some of the most important aspects of the Dunkirk evacuation that were left out of the Darkest Hour and the Dunkirk movies included King George VI’s call for an Empire-wide Day of Prayer and Repentance, to be held on 26 May 1940. When the British Expeditionary Force was in defeat and retreat, the King made an international broadcast, instructing the people of the British Empire to return to God in Repentance and humbly seek for Divine intervention to enable them to rescue their army from total destruction. Many millions of people across the British Isles and throughout the Empire flocked into churches, praying in shifts for deliverance. Churches were so packed that people were lined up for hours waiting to get into church, to take part in organised national Repentance.

    The record reports two events following this extraordinary Empire-wide call for Prayer. A violent storm arose over Dunkirk, grounding the Luftwaffe. Secondly a great calm descended on the English Channel, which fishermen said they had not seen for a generation. This allowed many hundreds of small boats to sail across and help rescue British soldiers. This led to most participants referring to the “miracle of Dunkirk.” The King appointed Sunday, 9 June as an Empire-wide Day of Thanksgiving.”

    Would the same ever happen today in the face of such an hour of need?

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  7. Dear David, I am not able to let the comment from ‘Tern’ pass without contributing the following response. Re ‘generation bashing’ – I have never noticed or felt the effect of it, in fact I admire and respect those now in their nineties, the last survivors of a generation that underwent the privations and sacrifices required to withstand the onslaught of the Third Reich on Europe.
    At the time when the Darkest Hour was set, Britain did stand alone. In fact her very survival over the next few months hung by a thread. The German army were parked up in France waiting to invade and we owe our survival to the brave airmen who won the Battle of Britain and sailors of the Royal Navy who fought the German U boats for access to the high seas. I question whether our allies in the British Empire would have been able to mobilise and support us here in Britain at that particular time with sufficient strength.
    There is a strong argument that Churchill was uniquely placed to recognise the threat from Herr Hitler as I mention in an earlier post. The fact that he came from a privileged background is irrelevant. Your further criticise him for not taking certain actions to end the war earlier, but from the moment America entered the war Churchill was not in charge. The Americans were, with their superior might and man power, they called the shots.
    Current European nations would do well to remember that Britain did not abandon them in their darkest hours.

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  8. I enjoyed the film but I found its portrayal of Chamberlain and Halifax as virtual traitors as distasteful and inaccurate.

    Chamberlain’s “crime” was to remember the horror of the First World War with its millions dead for no reason, and if he had been replaced by Churchill in 1938 and Britain had gone to war with Germany then we would have almost certainly been defeated after the years of disarmament. Halifax was a little more sceptical of Hitler, particularly after Munich and if he had been the traitor the film makes him out to be then he would have seized the premiership in 1940. Halifax was the shoo-in, were it not for his self-sacrifice. Everyone approved of him, except maybe the Labour opposition, but Labour were in no position to criticise the so-called appeasers because Labour had been solidly behind the disarmament of the 1930s.

    We reap what we sew, and Britain reaped the Second World war for its own folly in prosecuting the First, and then capping it with a vengeful peace treaty. Churchill himself had lots of innocent blood on his hands. The naval blockade of that country, pursued even after the Armistice, pushed many tens of thousands of innocents, including children, into an early and undeserved grave.

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  9. This is really a movie for everyone who loves to know more about the history of world. And the darkest hour stand out to be the best movie with such a strong story plot.

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  10. After seeing the film today and “Dunkirk ” last year, with my granddad having fought in the WW1 and my dad in WW2, neither of whom I can recall mentioning the wars, in anger or bile, against Germany, the family becoming friends of a German POW held locally, and not being a historian, I found that it was truly a dark hour, the true magnitude and weight for the whole of Europe that we blythely wear lightly in the frivolity of our dissipated freedom and seek to criticise and dissect from the comfort of our weightless lives lived without such mountainous responsibility that would break nearly all who comment.

    I wonder what Britain and the whole of Europe would be like now it were not for such a broken (black- dog) deeply flawed Churchill, and, as mentioned by Peter and Susan Marsden above, which hardly anyone mentions, the nation at prayer

    Near the end of the film, after Churchills, winning, famous Parliamentary speech and raucous approval, Chamberlain was shown as asking Halifax what had just happened and Halifax replied,
    “He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.”

    Would that the church mobilised the Word of God and send it into battle, in these continuing times of darkness, masquerading as light, as it seems that the church stands alone in recognising the present, perilous. perfidious, faithless times.

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  11. Aww, a wee tear for Churchill and all of a sudden the UK is a great thing and it’s not time to dissolve it…in all that history you read didn’t you grasp that Hitler rose because Germany was made to pay impossible war reparations after WW1, that WW1 was as much the fault of the UK, or shall we give it it’s proper name, ‘The Empire’ as it was Germany’s. I’ve no idea what kind of stupidity belies the view that Scotland belittled, dismissed and used to fund a Treasury still trying to preserve the throws of Empire, or do you also believe the phrase ‘Independent Nuclear Deterrent’ has three true words rather than just one.
    First time I’ve read your blog, last time I’ll be reading your blog, enjoy your union and feel free to move south if we end the union and you feel less British in a lonely Scotland.

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    1. Thats a shame….you might learn something and increase your knowledge if you read things outwith your own comfort zone! For what its worth I’m actually a supporter of Scottish Independence – although I have to admit that there are many times I am embarrassed to be such when I hear the irrational, silly and unhistorical arguments put forward by some of my fellow nationalists!

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