I have always been a student of history. Something has always fascinated me about the subject. I was fascinated by it as a child and teenager, and I have come to love and respect it as a grown man. I believe we need to know both history’s greatest triumphs and darkest tragedies, and take their lessons to heart. For if we know how things have played out in the past, it’ll help us make good decisions which will lead to a bright and prosperous future for ourselves, and our children after us.
I have also been inspired by a great number of historical figures for their courage and determination in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. Few seem to embody that courage, grit, stubbornness and never say die attitude as much as Sir Winston Churchill. I don’t know if he would appreciate me calling him this, but I always call him the British Bulldog. When everyone around him was ready to throw in the towel and negotiate for peace with Hitler in May 1940, he relentlessly stood his ground, he dug in and was stubborn like a bulldog! Gary Oldman was absolutely superb in bringing him to life in Darkest Hour, one of my new favorite historical movies!
Who was Winston Churchill?
Before I watched this movie, I admittedly did not know much about Winston Churchill beyond what I was taught in history class, in that he was our country’s greatest ally and friend in wartime once we joined the fight in December 1941.
But now after having seen Darkest Hour, I have a whole new level of respect and appreciation for him that just wasn’t there before. That’s not to say I didn’t respect him before. I always have respected him. But Gary Oldman brought out his humanity, and that really resonated with me. Winston Churchill was more than just the top-hat-wearing, cigar-chomping, whiskey-drinking man we see in the history book. If this movie is historically accurate and true to who he was as a person, Winston Churchill was a passionate, emotional man who deeply loved his home country in the same way I passionately love my country!
He also resonates with me because of his kindness to the people, and his sense of humor. Particularly when dealing with pesky reporters constantly hounding him for any updates on the war effort. When one reporter kept badgering him about whether or not he thought Britain was losing the war, he abruptly stopped walking, wheeled around to face the man, and gave him a “backwards peace sign” that instantly offended him. After that, it was all over the front page of the newspapers!
This scene taught me a new cultural thing, and had me busting out laughing! Apparently the “backwards peace sign” is the British equivalent of flipping somebody the bird? Learn something new every day! But that’s not even the funniest part. I bet Winston did know what the gesture meant, and he did it anyway! That would fit into his sense of humor. From what I know of Churchill before and after seeing the movie, he strikes me as a man who wasn’t politically correct. At all. And he didn’t seem afraid to rankle a few people or ruffle their feathers if he felt they needed it, with humor or otherwise 😉
Qualities of a True Leader
In addition to showing Churchill’s humor, Gary Oldman was also an absolute master at conveying his mindset when it came to making tough decisions. It seems to me like he often felt alone in facing Hitler. After all, his people were terrified, and nearly every politician in his cabinet was more than willing to back down and bow to Hitler. It took balls for Churchill to truly stand up for what he felt was right. And history did eventually prove that he WAS right in not backing down.
But the most important thing with that part of the film, is that Gary Oldman nailed portraying Churchill in such a way, that I felt as if I were there with him during the times he was outnumbered. I empathized with him. I felt as if I were there in person, watching him spar with Lord Halifax and other members of his cabinet, over whether or not to give in to Hitler or continue fighting.
It also became clear to me that Winston Churchill was often the wisest and most aware person whenever he was in the room with his advisors. When they wanted to sue for peace, and truly believed that Hitler would be merciful and reasonable, he knew what kind of man he was REALLY dealing with. He saw what no one else could see. He saw the giant 800 pound “Nazi gorilla” in the room when everyone else either couldn’t see it, or willfully looked away.
There were several sparring matches like this, with Winston often going against the others alone, until former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain joined him, once Chamberlain realized that peace with Hitler was impossible. I couldn’t imagine the stress Churchill was under. He saw the Battle of Britain coming before it happened, and he probably felt like no one was trying to help him. At one point in the film, he is on the verge of tears while he is at home. He feels hopeless, scared of the oncoming battle, and frustrated at the lack of help he’s getting. But his wife, Clementine Churchill comforts him. After that, he seems reinvigorated and ready to go. Ready to stand his ground and protect his people. He did indeed stand his ground. Because of it, history smiles on him as a hero. He was a bulwark for the British people and the rest of the world against arguably the most evil man in history.
Man of the People
Lastly Churchill’s love for his people was shown in a powerful scene near the end of the film. From all I have heard, the scene itself is fictional. It supposedly never happened. But there is an element of truth in it. Apparently, Churchill would often disappear from the sight of his bodyguards or the people he was with…only to be found later, talking with the common person, and listening to their views whether he agreed with them or not. That is a leader. That is a true servant of the people. Something the politicians in Washington have not done in decades! The world needs more people like that!
Overall, I thought this movie was extremely well done! Darkest Hour has also inspired me to learn more about who Winston Churchill really was. Our society seems like it could use more people like him in leadership positions. He certainly was not perfect. He was a human being like the rest of us and made plenty of mistakes. But he was there when his country and the world needed him the most, said what everyone needed to hear whether they liked it or not, and he didn’t rest until Hitler and the Nazis were no more.
God Bless Winston Churchill!