Darkest Hour: Queries and Comments with “Total Film” Magazine

Darkest Hour: Queries and Comments with “Total Film” Magazine

Jane Crowther, edi­tor-in-chief of Britain’s Total Film mag­a­zine, had per­ti­nent ques­tions about the new film Dark­est Hour. They were for­ward­ed by Lady Gilbert from the web­site of offi­cial biog­ra­ph­er Sir Mar­tin Gilbert. Alas he is gone, but Sir Martin’s inspi­ra­tion con­tin­ues to guide every­one, as he said, “who labours in the Churchill vineyard.”

Q: Did Win­ston Churchill ever use pub­lic trans­port while PM, par­tic­u­lar­ly the tube?

​Not to my knowl­edge. His daugh­ter Lady Soames told me he only used the Under­ground once, and became so lost that he had to be res­cued. ​(He was not unfa­mil­iar with oth­er pub­lic facil­i­ties. Near a call box in the House of Com­mons, David Lloyd George once hailed him: “Win­ston, lend me six­pence so I can ring a friend.” Mak­ing a show of dig­ging in his pock­ets, Churchill pro­duced a coin: “Here, David, is a shilling. Now  you can ring all your friends.”)

Darkest scenarios

Q: Did Churchill ever solic­it opin­ions from the gen­er­al pub­lic about gov­ern­ment policies?

Did he ask the pub­lic what to do, as he does in Dark­est Hour? Not in that way. But the film tries to con­vey that he took his cue from them—particularly when tour­ing Blitz dam­age. Typ­i­cal is this note in Churchill’s war mem­oir, Their Finest Hour (Cas­sell, 1949, 307-08), on a vis­it to South London:

When my car was recog­nised the peo­ple came run­ning from all quar­ters, and a crowd of more than a thou­sand was soon gathered….They crowd­ed round us, cheer­ing and man­i­fest­ing every sign of live­ly affec­tion, want­i­ng to touch and stroke my clothes. One would have thought I had brought them some fine sub­stan­tial ben­e­fit which would improve their lot in life. I was com­plete­ly under­mined, and wept. Ismay, who was with me, records that he heard an old woman say: “You see, he real­ly cares. He’s cry­ing.” They were tears not of sor­row but of won­der and admiration.

“But see, look here,” they said, and drew me to the cen­tre of the ruins. There was an enor­mous crater, per­haps forty yards across and twen­ty feet deep. Cocked up at an angle on the very edge was an Ander­son shel­ter, and we were greet­ed at its twist­ed door­way by a youngish man, his wife, and three chil­dren, quite unharmed but obvi­ous­ly shell-jarred. They had been there at the moment of the explo­sion. They could give no account of their expe­ri­ences. But there they were, and proud of it. Their neigh­bours regard­ed them as envi­able curiosi­ties. When we got back into the car a harsh­er mood swept over this hag­gard crowd. “Give it ’em back”, they cried, and “Let them have it too.” I under­took forth­with to see that their wish­es were car­ried out….

On Courage

Q: We accept that the screen­play is a drama­ti­sa­tion of events. But is it like­ly that Churchill would have left a gov­ern­ment car for a no-secu­ri­ty ride on the tube? Would he stop to talk to the peo­ple before such an impor­tant speech? If not, why not?

He was total­ly fear­less, and left his car often through­out the Blitz to walk about in scenes like the above. Like­wise, he con­stant­ly tried to get near the fight­ing on vis­it to the var­i­ous fronts. He was hap­pi­est when allowed to “pop off” at the ene­my per­son­al­ly, or watch a ship’s gun do it. Dur­ing the Blitz, his favorite roost was the roof of the Air Min­istry. There he stared at incom­ing bombers through binoc­u­lars. (One night he was asked to move. He was sit­ting on a chim­ney, and blow-back from coal fires was doing more dam­age below than the Luft­waffe.)
The prob­lem with Dark­est Hour‘s Under­ground scene (and the scene where the King tells Churchill to ask the peo­ple if he should fight on) is not dra­mat­ic license—which as you say one expects. The prob­lem is that it​ misrepresent​​s Churchill’s char­ac­ter and res­o­lu­tion. Of  course he had doubts about the outcome—​who would not?
But Churchill ​nev­er doubt­ed the right course for Britain. Lat­er he said, “it was the nation and race dwelling round the globe that had the lion heart.” Lady Diana Coop­er, a dear friend, once told him that his great­est achieve­ment was giv­ing peo­ple courage. “I nev­er gave them courage,” he replied. “I was able to focus theirs.”
See also an inter­view with The Australian. 

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