If you haven’t yet seen Darkest Hour, you owe yourself this treat to learn about a part of WWII history seldom discussed—Churchill’s first month in office, in the midst of war, fighting to win over his own War Cabinet. Perhaps his most important victory was gaining Cabinet consensus to commit the nation to war and not negotiate peace terms with Hitler.
Director Joe Wright takes the back-room negotiations (which could have been portrayed as “talking heads”) and dramatizes them with soaring music, brilliant cinematography, battle scenes in the air, and the tension of the Dunkirk evacuation. Even though you know that England will take on Hitler’s raging forces, you find yourself wrapped up in the story, feeling the intensity of the negotiations.
Be alerted, though, that the screenwriters have twisted the history, adding such fiction as Churchill’s London Underground ride, when he conducts a focus group with average citizens to learn how they feel about committing their country to war. They, of course, advise him to “never surrender.”
To add drama, the characterizations are overdrawn, with former Prime Minister Chamberlain scheming with Lord Halifax (senior Conservative Party member) to get Churchill voted out of office (by a vote of no confidence in Parliament) and then put Halifax in his place. There is no evidence to show such conspiring. In fact, Churchill’s War Cabinet meetings were recorded meticulously (including 9 contentious meetings between May 24 and May 28, 1940) and published, giving us the real story.
At times, Churchill is pictured as a tortured man, uncertain and indecisive. Phooey! He was a man of many faults (many, like his drinking, showcased in the movie), but he was decisive and he welcomed fierce debate and arguments. He was a brilliant writer, who worked over and over his speeches, until his meaning was clear, the phrasing dramatic, and the call to action forceful. On May 28, Churchill told his War Cabinet “that every man of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”
This movie shares a story worth telling, and, with these cautions, I hope you will enjoy a colorful insight into the working of British government.
As a leadership role model, Churchill is colorful, dramatic, and memorable, and we offer three different Churchill leadership programs, ranging from a half day overview to a three-day intensive seminar. See our Website for details or call.
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