Thoughts on “Darkest Hour”

So, it should surprise no one that I was interested in the movie “Darkest Hour”, since I have some interest in the politics and details of World War II.  I think I found it for a relatively low price and decided that I’d give it a try at some point.  With some time to spare on Christmas morning before I decided to cook my meal for the day, I sat down to watch the movie.

The thing about this movie is that it ultimately ends up being a movie that follows the life of Winston Churchill between the time he was elevated to Prime Minister to just after the defeat of France and the launch of the operation to rescue the army from Dunkirk, when he fights off a challenge to his authority from Chamberlain and Halifax that could have gotten him removed as Prime Minister.  But the reason I say that it follows his life is that while in general dramatic retellings of history tend to pick one main thread to follow and filter everything around that, “Darkest Hour” doesn’t do that.  One would think that Churchill fighting off the political challenge, and that thread gets the most attention, but there are lots of other scenes that have little or nothing to do with that, and the Dunkirk operation is given both a time and emotional importance that is rather out of place for that idea given that it isn’t used as ammunition by Churchill against his opponents, or even as an example that the people wanted to fight and that his opponents and War Cabinet were wrong about the will of the people and about not evacuating their soldiers.  So neither the Dunkirk crisis nor the political crisis seem to be the main threads, since the two of them aren’t connected to each other at all and both are too prominent to be a mere side thread to some other main story.  And it can’t be the invasion of France, because that really is a side note to all the other things going on.

So it could be a movie, instead, that focuses on Churchill as a man.  And it certainly does focus on him and on his flaws and relations to other people.  But again we don’t get enough scenes exploring his character for that to be the case.  He does things and we find out about him, but the point of the scenes never seems to be to show us the kind of man he is — even as an ambiguous character — and the ending focuses on his fighting off the challenge and with a notable speech, but it doesn’t come across as a defining moment for his character.  The movie could be focusing on the view of Churchill from his new secretary, but while she’s prominent in the scenes she’s in she’s entirely left out of a significant part of the movie, so that doesn’t work either.

That’s why I say that it’s a movie following Churchill through those days, because there is no other consistent thread in the movie other than that Churchill is moving through some crucial days leading up to The Battle of Britain.

That being said, other than that lack of a main thread it’s a well-written movie.  The dialogue and scenes mostly work, and Gary Oldman gives a really good performance as Churchill.  All we’re seeing are things that are happening, and yet the things are interesting and given an emotional gravitas that comes entirely from the performances and what we remember about the times as opposed to coming from the main thread.  That made it an entertaining movie and one that despite its political subject matter didn’t leave me bored.

Which, then, means that the most interesting thing about the movie is about whether or not I’d watch it again.  I liked the movie and was entertained by it, so you’d think it would go into the closet of the movies that I would definitely rewatch.  And yet, after watching it and liking it, I don’t have any great desire to watch it again.  In fact, I have more desire to watch or read or get some kind of real historical biography instead of watching this again, at least in part to determine what things in it are invented and which really happened.  I think the reason for this is that I’m not really into historical dramatizations.  The closet thing that I have that is one is “Hogan’s Heroes”, and that obviously isn’t any kind of real historical dramatization.  I am more interested in the documentary-style books and movies about history than about the dramatizations, probably because I want to know more and also am interested in all of the political, personal and military aspects of such events (for a war, and I tend to prefer military history to anything else).  So the lack of a central thread makes it work less well for me as a drama and it is too much of a drama to work for me as a history.  So it’s good and enjoyable, but not something that I want to watch on a regular basis.  So it will go into my box of movies to rewatch at some point in the future, but not to rewatch regularly.

One Response to “Thoughts on “Darkest Hour””

  1. Player-Character is What You Are in the Dark | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] to feel like how I’d feel in that world going through those monumental events, or even like how I’d feel watching a movie about Churchill’s decisions early in World War II.  The mechanics in an RPG are there to facilitate living in that world and telling a story about […]

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