review of the Churchillian duo
I've just seen "Darkest Hour" and saw "Churchill" a few months ago.
Rather like "Their Finest" and "Dunkirk" they make an interesting pair, that
cover slightly different subjects but with a lot of similarities, although
"Their Finest" and "Dunkirk" are much better movies than the Churchillian
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS (Well... Only spoilers if you didn't pay
attention in history class.)
"Darkest Hour" with Gary Oldman covers Churchill in what is now known as the
May 1940 War Cabinet Crisis with the Brits deciding whether or not to
negotiate with Hitler as everything goes wrong in France. "Churchill"
with Brian Cox covers Churchill in the days before D Day in 1944.
Gary Oldman is getting lots of Oscar buzz for his portrayal but I'm not
quite sure why. His Winston Churchill came across to me more like Winnie the
Pooh and the Really Bad Day, whereas I thought that Brian Cox nailed it.
Both did well portraying the booze and the irascibility, and what a
nightmare Churchill must have been to work for, and his ability to turn on
the charm. Both covered the "black dog" of depression well, (and in this
case in three short scenes Oldman outdoes Cox, so, OK, perhaps the
Oscar buzz isn't too far off.)
Clementine Churchill, (played by the equally deliciously elegant Kristin
Scott-Thomas and Miranda Richardson respectively,) steals both films.
Whatever you think about the movies as a whole the ladies repay the price of
"Darkest Hour" obviously had a lot more money spent on it, with some
interesting CGI zoom in and pull out shots, (well the first three times are
interesting, then it gets a bit predictable,) whereas "Churchill" has a
"made for TV" feel, for example, when Monty gives a rousing speech to all
eight soldiers of the 21st Army Group.
So what's not to like? Well, the history, the history and the history....
"Churchill" is by far the worse offender taking Winston's obsession with a
"soft underbelly" attack on Germany through the Balkans from 1942 and 1943
and transposing it onto May 1944 with him trying to derail D Day just before
it kicks off.... absolute tosh and despite the great acting it lost me the
movie. You can't do a historical biopic without the history and this flick
is largely fantasy.
The history in "Darkest Hour" is more ambivalent. The debate over
negotiating with the Nazis brokered through the Italians really happened but
it was not an ambush scenario in the War Cabinet set up by an evil Halifax
and an evil Chamberlain to depose Churchill and install Halifax. Many shared
Halifax's view and Chamberlain supported Churchill. This odd set up of the
movie actually underplays Churchill's courage because Halifax's position
was a reasonable one with a lot of popular support, Churchill's position was
the right one, but the risky one.
In addition to this fundamental point there are also a few jarring
(a)historical bits in "Darkest Hour." Churchill is made to speak bad French
when in fact his French was very good. There is no mention of him proposing
an Anglo-French Union. He is given sole credit for thinking up and
implementing the Dunkirk evacuation with even Admiral Ramsey having to be
convinced of what a jolly good idea it would be to call up the little boats.
And, for reasons completely beyond me Roosevelt is trashed for
purportedly leaving Britain in the lurch with no mention of "Cash and
Carry," and providing the high octane avgas that won the Battle of Britain.
You could argue that these plot lines are included for dramatic effect but
they add nothing to the drama, Hitler and the Nazis were the enemy that
Churchill was fighting, not Halifax and Roosevelt, and by throwing these in
the real drama and threat is diminished.
The denouement of "Darkest Hour" is very strange. With his black dog of
depression dispelled by a high ranking and new-found chum visiting in the
middle of the night, followed by a trip on the Tube declaiming Lord
Macaulay's "Horatius" that is straight out of "Paddington 2," Churchill
briefs and wins over the Outer Cabinet. Meanwhile, that very same day, the
nasty Halifax and duplicitous Chamberlain are intending to bushwhack
Winston in the House with a threat to resign and bring on a vote of no
confidence. However Churchill extemporises the "We Shall Fight Them on the
Beaches..." speech in the back of his car, delivers it, the uproarious
response of support for Winston thwarts the two baddies' plans and we all
live happily ever after.
Erm, not quite....
The reason it is called the May War Cabinet Crisis was because it happened
in May. Halifax did threaten to resign over negotiations, Chamberlain acted
as a mediator between the two, siding with one, then the other, and
Churchill did outflank them both by getting the support of the Outer
Cabinet. The decisive moment came on 28th may with the Outer Cabinet
briefing and the knowledge received that day that Italy would be entering
the war anyway so they would not be honest brokering anything. From then on
Halifax was back in line and so was Chamberlain who had probably never been
out of line anyway. The "We Shall Fight Them On The Beaches..." speech was
delivered a week later on 4th June.
Still, you should go and see "Darkest Hour" anyway.
Well the words.... The script was mostly written by one Winston S.
Churchill: speeches, lines from cabinet minutes, and a lot of the
incidental dialogue and quips are all his, with one stanza from Lord
Macaulay too. So much so that if the scriptwriter, Anthony McCarten is up
for an another Oscar, (he got one for "The Theory of Everything,") it really
should be for Best ADAPTED Screenplay. If that is not worth two hours of
your time then I don't know what is.
"Tickity Tonk Old Fruit and Down with the Nazis!"