Monday, 29 January 2018

Darkest Hour


Audiences burst out into spontaneous applause when Churchill delivers his 'fight them on the beaches' speech in the new film Darkest Hour.

There are lots of reasons they would. It's a wonderful speech and reminds us of a time when the British were alone, without Europe or America, and when alone meant backed by the Dominions, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and the colonies. 

A fairly recent but very different, unglobalised, unfeminised, pre-socialist, class conscious, all white England.

But I certainly won't go to see a film that pretends Churchill would have used the tube. 

One cannot suspend one's disbelief that much.

It's not so important, but film also apparently refers to 'the enemy', never the Germans. 

Why not mention the Germans? 

Because the film was made as a celebration of the EU and internationalism. It pretends that we were at war not with Germany, but with racism.

In other words, we were fighting not for our country, but for values. 

Does this sound familiar?

We live in a world of lies and half truths, written by idiots. 

We always did, but the nature of the lies and half truths changes as the people in charge of us change. 

I preferred the old half truths, personally, but it's a matter of taste.

The director, Joe Wright, spoke in favour of Remain and, discussing the film, pointed out that racism was a sin of which not the Germans only but the British also were guilty. 

It sounds like it is a period piece - the period in question being the one that ended on the morning of June 24 2016.

Andrew Roberts, who idealises Churchill a little uncritically and who loved the new film, of course hated the scene in the tube.

Charles Moore also won't go to see it. I learn from his diary in The Spectator that not only is Churchill made to go by tube but to meet a black man on the tube too who finishes for him a quotation from Lord Macaulay.

I was about to go and see the film Darkest Hour, when somebody who had just done so told me about a key scene. On 4 June 1940, Churchill leaves Downing Street for the House of Commons to make his ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech without knowing what he will say. Powerful persons are pushing him to try to make peace with Germany. He jumps out of his official car and gets the tube from St James’s Park to Westminster. On this one-stop journey, he quotes Macaulay’s ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’ to a lovely black man, who caps the quotation. Dear, patriotic citizens weepily beg Churchill to declare that we will fight on, so he decides that is what he will say in Parliament. Obviously, in drama, one must not succumb to ‘the tyranny of fact’, but if you know that Churchill did not travel by tube, that he had thoroughly decided what he would say, that he always prepared his parliamentary speeches pretty much word for word, and that only a madman would go from Downing Street via St James’s Park station to get to Westminster, you cannot suspend your disbelief. If the film’s suggestion that his mind was so malleable is correct, it would have gone ill with our island story if he had happened to find himself strap-hanging with a whole load of appeasers (who would not, by the way, have been difficult to find). I don’t think I’ll get to the cinema.

Upper class Englishmen did not travel by tube in 1940, even if they did not happen to be His Majesty's First Minister. And a black man on the tube in 1940 was almost as rare a sight as someone from the upper class. 

By the way, talking of black men, does the director know that Churchill's view of black men and Indians was thoroughly Edwardian and very racist (a word that was not yet used) by the standards of his day? 

If not he is ignorant - in either case, the film is propaganda.

The depiction of Harold Macmillan in The Crown, the Netflix series about H.M. the Queen, sounds infinitely worse, if that's a consolation.


  1. Lies written by idiots. Like Brexit, which is still an unresolved mess.

  2. "We live in a world of lies written by idiots."

    Yes and the Good War was the foundational lie of our Age of Lies. It was our Darkest Hour but for the exact opposite reason that the film wants us to believe. We came within inches of an outbreak of peace but the forces of darkness won. Churchill got his way so that we could carry on terror-bombing a kindred people who only wanted good relations with us. 500,000 men, women, children, elderly, babies burned, boiled and roasted to death by our democratic bombs and that was just in Dresden. For what? What did we get out of it? The freedom to enjoy Big Macs, porn and hip hop while we too are slowly genocided.

  3. Speaking of Churchill there was a group of Leftists yesterday that stormed and then vandalised a local cafe in Finsbury Park for having a Churchill-Themed Menu.

    You'd think if they had a bit of perspective they would overlook Churchill's racism and be grateful he made the world safe for people like them to have the run of the place for 70 plus years with basically zero opposition. Obviously though if leftists thought long and hard about things they would see their whole "anti-racism" obsession just makes them useful idiots for global capitalism.

  4. I want to see this movie!

  5. I would recommend "The Death of Stalin." A very funny film.

  6. In other words, we were fighting not for our country, but for values.

    If the director of the film could travel back in time to ask those people what they were fighting for he would be very triggered indeed. To the extent that they were fighting for values they were fighting for very old-fashioned values, like the British Empire. And they were fighting to avoid being ruled by foreigners.

    They were also fighting for old-fashioned stuff like family, and decency.

    They also weren't that keen on the war. Churchill was not popular. The whole Churchill as Much Loved Wartime Leader thing is propaganda. The British propaganda machine went into top gear in WW2, as it had done in WW1.

    1. Many people did love Churchill - he was popular even with Labour supporters in my family. Others did not. Many found his 'fight them on the beaches' speech stirring - some like my great-aunt found it frightening.

    2. I think people went to war to fight for what they or their fathers had expended so much blood and treasure on in the First World War.

      Values did come into it. Germany was clearly an unscrupulous, expansionist power attacking her neighbours and this was the moral reason for war - but this is essentially the same as the self interested reason, that the English were fighting because of the importance of preserving a balance of power in Europe, in the interests of Britain.
      And this is right – to send young men to die for values, other than the value of defending their country, is not so easy to justify.
      I think this balance of power theory never really made sense of the UK, but people then thought the war was unavoidable.

      Had Chamberlain tried to persuade his party and coalition parners to stay out of the war, things would have been different. Would they have been worse or better?

      I have quoted the (very left wing) A.J.P. Taylor's opinion more than once but here it is again:

      "We have been most secure when we kept out of Europe. Meddling with European affairs has brought us nothing but toil and suffering. The greatest age of British economic achievement was in the nineteenth century. Then we were truly the workshop of the world. The sole principle of our foreign policy was Splendid Isolation. This was the basis for our prosperity.

      Of course we do not want to see new wars in Europe. But if we enter into European alliances or European associations we make war more likely. Already German statesmen are saying that the new European Super Power will be able to challenge Soviet Russia. Is this what British people desire?

      During the twentieth-century we were twice involved in great European wars. We were told that this was necessary for our security. On each occasion we came out less secure than when we went in. We were told we could not allow one country to dominate the Continent. And what happened? In 1940 one country did dominate the Continent. Yet we survived thanks solely to our own strength. And we should have been far stronger in the summer of 1940 if we had not previously sent an expeditionary force to France and lost all its equipment at Dunkirk.

      The Battle of Britain was the most glorious event in our recent history. We won it without European allies. We won it because we had detached ourselves from Europe. It was the victory of Splendid Isolation. Long ago in the days of sailing ships, there was perhaps a case for saying that we could not allow Antwerp to pass into enemy hands. Even in the days of short-range aircraft and rockets there was a case for saying that we were concerned for the independence of Belgium and Northern France. Now nuclear weapons, if they are ever used, will come from thousands of miles away. The security of western Europe has no special significance for us. In weapons, as in other things, the world has become one."

    3. David in Ukraine30 January 2018 at 13:40

      A very interesting quotation. And Taylors conclusions are still appropriate today, especially with all the sabre rattling aimed at Russia.

    4. Especially by that absurd boy who is now Secretary of State for Defence. Putin is not Hitler. Nor were Saddam or Nasser.

    5. We were told we could not allow one country to dominate the Continent. And what happened? In 1940 one country did dominate the Continent. Yet we survived thanks solely to our own strength. And we should have been far stronger in the summer of 1940 if we had not previously sent an expeditionary force to France and lost all its equipment at Dunkirk.

      Taylor makes an excellent point there.

      Possibly the biggest mistake the British ever made was allying themselves with the French just before WW1. Alliance with the French was always foolishness. After the debacle of the Crimean War the British should have known not to get mixed up with the French again.

      Had Chamberlain tried to persuade his party and coalition partners to stay out of the war, things would have been different. Would they have been worse or better?

      There would have been no war had the British not yet again got themselves entangled with the French.

  7. Had it not been for Britain in the Poles' ear telling them not to make any concessions the Polish corridor situation would have been solved and there would have been no war with Poland. The Treaty of Versailles was ridiculously unfair. Hitler was prepared to compromise but the Western Powers were not. If you commit yourself to upholding a settlement which no self respecting nation can accept then of course you make war inevitable.

  8. The Versailles settlement fell between too stools. It was unfair from the Wiksonian point of view of ethnic self determination and insufficiently rigorous from the point of view of preventing Germany overturning the settlement. With Russia a pariah state there could be no check on German expansion in the East. The procrustean rearrangement of Eastern Europe in 1919 was a mess but the 1945 settlement much more tragic.

    Had Hitler, that afficionado of Westerns, not wanted to starve to death the Ukrainians and Russians to create a German equivalent of the wild West, perhaps a settlement might have been possible. Hitler offered Poland an alliance but all he had to offer was land taken from the USSR in return for lots of territory that Poland possessed but could not defend.

  9. Had Poland made a deal with Hitler before he made one with Stalin things would presumably have been less terrible for the Poles.

    Had the Whites overthrown the Bolsheviks...

    All sorts of what ifs...

    1. Poland might have made a deal with Hitler, but could Hitler be trusted to stick with it? Stalin made that mistake.

    2. No he certainly couldn't, but even had he double crossed the Poles could the outcome have been worse for Poland?

  10. Well, I think that everyone can agree that the subway scene was pure (and unnecessary) nonsense. But then fidelity to even some of the most basic facts of history (those we shouldn't argue about) eludes most filmmakers. But, in any event, these tales are best told in books anyway. And for all my respect for Oldman and his portrayal, I still prefer Albert Finney's.

    1. I didn't know he played Hitler. I dont think I saw anyone play Hitler.
      As I love Guinness I'd like to see his Hitler- the film got bad reviews.

    2. The scene in the tube seems like the sort of thing an American would write - but this is a British film.

  11. Hmm British writers seem to have been trained en masse in the US. Watching one episode of the Vikings series (writer Michael Hirst) is enough. Supposedly the Vikings were sacrificing people to their Gods in mushroom induced delirium, and at the same time were really concerned with women's rights, rape management and punishment, the existence of God??? Purely pathological delusion!

  12. If you wish to see an excellent Hitler portrayal, you can do no better than Bruno Ganz in "The Downfall" ("Der Untergang"). Ganz is Swiss.

    Having alerted me to the shortcomings of "Darkest Hour", for which I thank you, I wish to commend to you "Goodbye Christopher Robin", a delightful movie.

  13. I was remembering Beachcomber's lines this morning as it happens.

    Hush, hush,
    Nobody cares,
    Christopher Robin has fallen downstairs.

  14. I love Churchill’s witticisms, which we briefly touched on. Another that comes to mind is when George Bernard Shaw sent Churchill two tickets to the premiere of a new play, with the message “Please do come, and bring a friend, if you have one”. To which Churchill replied, “Sadly I am unable to attend the premiere, but I will come on the second night if there is one!”

    As usual your blogs are entertaining and provocative. I enjoyed your demolition of “Darkest Hour”, which – perhaps wrongly – has persuaded me not to go to see the film. I also dislike being required to suspend belief beyond reasonable limits.


  15. Professor John Charmley commented: Spot on. The other myth that needs demolishing now is the one which sees "we fight on, alone" as some justification for Brexit. WW2 was won with allies, not "Britain alone".

  16. A review is necessarily subjective, as this one is which can at the same time state a preference for "half-truths" of the past and lament the film's failures to tell all the reviewer's cherished "truths". I agree the ending of the film, with WC in the tube reciting Horatius with a group of youngsters displaying a modern diversity, was at best imaginative and at worst ridiculous. I can agree that the film's aversion to words like "Hun" and even "German" showed more hesitancy than I would have. But this does not detract from this film's and this actor's astounding success in bringing to the attention of our younger generations a man, a personality, a determination, a leadership which we would all do well to remember, with our necessarily less than perfect our memories.

    Simon Potter

  17. All of these cheesy historic movies that are coming out now are reminiscent of the 1960s World War II movies that were just awful... Dunkirk in this film included. Hollywood is just repeating itself and doesn't have the ability to make a Epic film anymore like Patton or Das Boot... two fine films about war. All Quiet on the Western Front is another solid war movie and book. The book is better but they are both excellent. The original black-and-white movie (1930) and the TV movie made in the 1970s (1979) with Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine. Still confused I'm not quite sure what the film The English Patient was about from the 1990s... One of the worst films ever made in my opinion. Just awful. And that was supposedly a big budget film. Cold Mountain is another good war movie with a love interest intertwined with a story. That film is sat in 1864 and that's the beginning of the film shows the attempt to blow up the Confederate lines at Petersburg to end the siege near Richmond Virginia. Find these films if you haven't seen them...