Dark times

Saw a really great movie last night. Won tickets to a preview screening of Darkest Hour in Hawthorn. Met up with Donna, predictably late, and sat down in the plush cinema to watch a movie much lauded for Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill.

Like the rest, I can’t fault Oldman’s performance, which is as enthralling and convincing as the movie is as a whole. Ben Mendelsohn is also excellent playing King George. Every time I see Mendelsohn he looks like he’s coming off a big night, but in this he’s regal playing a upright and slightly diffident king, complete with proper posh accent and slight stutter.

This movie plays like a thriller. There’s no secret how things turn out, but as we discover it was a close run thing. It’s a dire moment of history. The Allied forces have been utterly devastated by the blitzkrieg and it looks almost certain that 300,000 English troops – their whole army – will be lost. Without them England is virtually defenceless if not for the channel separating them from the mainland. In the face of this the clamour to negotiate for peace becomes more insistent, to the point almost of overwhelming the stalwart Churchill, who is otherwise determine to defy Hitler, and everything he stands for. The pressure is immense, and on Churchill’s response hinges history.

It appears from this distance that if not for a fortuitous sequence of circumstances then Hitler may well have conquered Europe whole, with no-one left to stand against him. Had Halifax been installed as PM instead of Hitler then certainly England would have surrendered in all but name. Had Churchill not defied the will of his war cabinet then the result would have been the same. Even so, if the so-called miracle of Dunkirk not eventuated then England would have been left a toothless, and largely defenceless entity.

There are few better candidates for history’s man of the moment than Winston Churchill. It’s certain that had he not come to power then world history would be very different today.

All of this plays out in your mind as you watch the events unfold in virtual real time, the clock ticking, machinations back and forwards, soul searching and hard choices. It is absolutely riveting, particularly for a history buff like me. The tone is not triumphant, but it still manages to be rousing. I watched at times feeling incredibly moved, a lump in my throat and my eyes moist.

The question I had in my mind, and which Donna echoed afterwards, was what would I have chosen in the same circumstances – sue for peace hoping to save the lives of all those men; or defy the Nazi’s and risk not just the lives of those me, but the very existence of England? This is the dilemma they wrestled with in those dark days, even Churchill at his lowest ebb. We know how it worked out, but they did not have the benefit of history to inform them.

I think I’d have stood by Churchill, if for no other reason that I’m by nature stubborn and defiant and hate giving way. The broader point, made by Churchill, is that it had been the appeasement of Hitler that had led to this state of affairs. Hitler was not a man to be trusted, he would always want more, and now was the time to stand up to him. A so-called peace would cripple England, and would not be the end of it. Now was the time to stand-up to the bully.

The rest is history – literally – as they say. I recommend this movie unreservedly. Donna reckons it’s one of the best movies she’s ever seen. For me, I can of few that stirred me so much – though it highlights the utter deficit in leadership we suffer from today. Oh, but for someone as courageous and tue as Churchill today!

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