Got a shiny statue for playing Churchill

Yes, we do know Gary Oldman got the Oscar for playing Churchill. However, our correspondent, Esteban DeGolf, is unimpressed:

I recently saw the movie “Darkest Hour” about Winston Churchill and I was disappointed and very surprised considering the positive reviews I had heard, especially from Conservative sources. Personally I would rate the movie as OK at best. There are several things that I believe make it fall far short of the mark:

First of all, Gary Oldman‘s attempt to mimic Churchill‘s speech made him rather difficult to understand.

Second I felt the movie greatly overplayed his eccentricities.

Third, and now we’re getting into more meaningful issues, the most memorable scene in the movie involves Churchill going into the Underground to ask common people if Britain should fight on. This made for good theater but it was totally fabricated. The movie would have you believe that Churchill was undecided and only swayed by public opinion in the Underground – if he had picked a different train car perhaps Britain would have surrendered.

Finally, and most important, the movie implies Churchill was extremely conflicted about whether Britain should fight on or sue for peace with Hitler. While I’m not a historian I have a read a great deal about Churchhill and I’ve seen nothing that supports this storyline. Churchill was famously defiant and felt Britain should fight virtually to the last man.

I must confess I am mystified as to why so many people promote this as an outstanding movie. I had a very similar experience years ago regarding the movie “The Iron Lady” about Margaret Thatcher. It also got excellent reviews from Conservatives which I could not understand. That movie spent an inordinate amount of time showing Lady Thatcher near the end of her life roaming around her apartment struggling with dementia and talking to her husband who had died years before. It implied that she fought the Falklands War for PR purposes and didn’t care about casualties. And, of course, it minimized the economic benefits her policies brought to all of Britain.

So, how to explain the reviews? I assume that for those on the political left it minimizes a great Conservative and turns his greatest achievements into something that was really just a straw poll of the common people and perhaps one good speech. But what about Conservatives, why do they applaud this lame effort? I think it must be that Conservatives are so used to being thoroughly trashed and reviled by Hollywood that this seems like very good treatment indeed. For a battered wife one kind word must feel like a trip to Heaven.

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  1. Ah well, the film was pretty good at building a tense atmosphere which is a little difficult when you know the result. I was surprised gary oldman’s vocal impression was so high pitched in parts. That said, I don’t fully trust my pre-existing impression of it being more baritone than tenor.

  2. Yes, the film’s deviation from reality “made for good theater.” In short, they faked reality by downplaying resoluteness and inserting doubt. The result was: Good theater, the thing for which they award those shiny statues. I don’t begrudge him his.

  3. Oldman was better as Sid Vicious. And I had to stifle a laugh at the Underground scene. Just another film made by the historically illiterate (for what they assume is the same).

    I should have saved the cash I spent to watch that turkey and pulled out one of my Godzilla DVDs instead.

  4. I was disappointed by another recently praised film, Dunkirk. The score by Hans Zimmer was off-putting, at times I confused the music for ambient sounds (like ship engines). A note to the people who did the subtitles: the Spitfire wasn’t a jet. In all, I prefer the original Dunkirk film with John Mills.

  5. I thought Darkest Hour was quite good – for me at least, it certainly gave me pause to consider the fact that Churchill was of my great-grandfathers generation, which is a generation that actually, I would find incredibly difficult to relate to on account of how much life has changed since then.
    Churchill is one of those figures with a legendary and heroic status today, and the film simply reminded me that it wasn’t always the case. I’m okay with a little artistic licence being used – the fact that Churchill wouldn’t have gone on the tube is not relevant to me, whereas him privately doubting himself when being in a political echo chamber and hearing things that don’t reflect the reality of the people outside certainly has parallels to today’s world.

    The Dunkirk film as a story was underwhelming, but director Christopher Nolan is an expert in letting one experience what it might have been like to be there. For this though, you need to watch his films in an IMAX cinema with a decent sound setup to experience the proper tour-de-force. Watching it on your home TV is never going to convey the experience – no more than a microwave meal tastes restaurant quality. The proof of the pudding for me though is the reactions of the veterans who said that it was like being back there, and far more relatable than other Dunkirk films.