4 Stars – Challenging
We rarely know that when we are confronted with life’s biggest challenges that this could be the pivotal point where our decisions make the greatest impact on others. Facing one of the greatest challenges in its history, England chose Winston Churchill to step in as Prime Minister in 1940 to lead the country in the perilous beginning of what became World War II. While Churchill may today be revered as one of England’s greatest heroes, his beginning as a leader in the British Parliament was less than popular. In fact, most of the people in his own political party groaned at the thought of his assuming leadership.
When Germany began its invasion of Eastern Europe in September of 1939, the world was in shock at Hitler’s brazen attempts to override the rule of law and national sovereignty. For months after his march across national boundaries, members of the British Parliament were frozen in disbelief. Almost all of the British army was sent to France to stop Hitler’s western advance, but they now found themselves trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk and the military was faced with complete annihilation.
Parliament had lost trust in Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) when as Prime Minister he had just a year earlier returned from negotiating with Hitler and had assured the British government that “he was a man of his word and wanted to live in peace with his neighbors.” Chamberlain still clung to the hope that they could negotiate a peace agreement with Hitler, even if it resulted in their becoming a weak satellite on the outskirts of the terrifying control of a power-hungry Germanic leader. The ultimate irony in all of this cataclysmic upheaval was the fact that it had only been 21 years since the allies defeated Germany in what was to be “the war that ended all wars.”
Faced with the terrifying realization that the British Isles were now on the verge of collapse, the Parliament and the monarchy chose the only person that both parties could agree upon, a man that was so unpredictable in his behavior and untamed in his emotions, that no one knew what he would say next. Winston Churchill (played brilliantly by Gary Oldman) had been in and out of government for over 40 years, and his checkered past haunted him at every turn. His greatest assets included a litany of lessons learned from past mistakes, a public distaste for Adolf Hitler, and a masterful command of the English language.
With the support of his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his young assistant secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), Churchill wades into the muddied waters of interests in Parliament and listens to the voices clamoring for retreat and negotiating with the enemy. When you are surrounded by loud voices, it is hard to resist their call.
What happened during Churchill’s reign as Prime Minister is well documented far beyond what is in this film, but there are some tender moments here that give us insight into how major decisions in life are affected by everyday circumstances. Certainly one of the most pivotal decisions is the one to resist Hitler’s evil even if it meant a huge national sacrifice. This lesson is one that in the film is learned by a small choice one day to do something he had never done in his life - - take a ride on the underground. When the public saw him step into a subway car with them, they were in disbelief! What transpires in the simple conversations between stations convinces him that the public has a much more committed sense of the sacrifice this war is going to take than the leaders of Parliament, and as a result he found a renewed sense of purpose and a strong voice.
The Darkest Hour barely touches on the first week or two of Churchill’s reign as Prime Minister, but it gives a remarkably touching view of how simple acts of kindness and communication pivot major decisions that have a powerful impact on the history of a nation. Churchill entered Parliament again to confront those who wanted to see him removed, and instead gave one of the most endearing and motivating speeches in history, turning the nation and the people towards the preservation of the United Kingdom, and eventually the fate of World War II itself.
- Often we are not aware of the impact our daily decisions make on our own life, let alone the life of our nation. How have your decisions as an individual impacted our nation – for good or for ill?
- The unpredictable nature of Churchill’s leadership made it difficult for Hitler to control him. In a time of war this was a great advantage. Is it also true in times of peace? Why do you answer as you do?
- Hitler’s power-hungry desire caused the death of hundreds of millions of people. Where do you see this megalomaniacal attitude on the world stage today? How should we respond before calamity comes upon us all?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the former pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and the Lead Superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews: http://www.cinemainfocus.com/.