Ali Elizabeth Turner
We have a holiday tradition in our home, and that is to go to a movie on Christmas day. Everyone agreed that Darkest Hour, a docu-drama on Winston Churchill and the build-up to the miraculous rescue of troops on the beach of Dunkirk during WWII, was to be the winner of our vote; and I’d like to see it again.
There are a number of good reasons to go see this movie. If you are a fan at all of what I call the “craft” of movie-making, this thing is remarkable from an uncommon standpoint, and that is the use of prosthetic make-up. Actor Gary Oldman, who plays the part of Churchill, had to spend five hours a day having the make-up applied, and that was before the day’s shooting schedule began. In addition, it took about an hour to remove the make-up, and the realism of his character is indescribable. Oldman nails his portrayal of Winston, from the walk, the talk, the hand gestures, the voice, the humor, and the benevolent irascibility, to the heavy drinking.
In addition to Oldman’s character, the attention to detail when it came to automobiles, costumes, hair styles, telephones, typewriters, radios, and more was painstaking. In a word, it is a fantastic period piece, period. There is a scene when Churchill is delivering a thunderous speech to Parliament and there is a young woman up in the gallery listening to him. The actress looked so much like my mom at the same age that it was almost eerie.
As much as the phrases “cinematic triumph” and “masterpiece” get bandied around when it comes to movies, not only is it true in the case of Darkest Hour, it is an understatement. The film’s worth is in the history lesson and what it means to have unshakeable resolve when no one believes you are on the right path. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister who preceded Winston, had effectively sold England down the river straight into Adolph Hitler’s control. The Conservative Party knew that they needed to replace Chamberlain for his policies of appeasement, but no one wanted Winston even though he had been warning everyone about Hitler for years. Under protest Winston was appointed, and immediately the members of his own party tried to politically hamstring him, sabotaging every attempt of Winston’s to show England forth as strong and willing to resist the Nazis.
Winston Churchill was sworn in on May 10, 1940, and Operation Dynamo, the code name for the rescue of the British soldiers on the beach of Dunkirk, was just a few weeks later on June 4, 1940. He had less than a month to not only settle in to functioning in the underground bunkers of 10 Downing Street, but plan and execute the operation which saved close to 330,0000 British soldiers.
Then, after the miracle that was Dunkirk, Winston went straight into England’s “darkest hour,” the blitzkrieg attacks by the Luftwaffe on London, as well as the ground and air war on the continent. While his resolve to “never surrender” certainly was tested to the limit, he stood firm. He got England through the war, and then was rather unceremoniously discarded in the 1946 election.
At the end of the day, Darkest Hour is a worthwhile reminder of the kinds of prices which were paid by the Greatest Generation for our freedom, and those of one man in particular, Sir Winston Churchill. Go see it.