We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Darkest Hour – film review

Last night I went with the Sage of Kettering to see Darkest Hour, based on the events around Churchill becoming Prime Minister as Germany destroys Western Europe. Overall, I would say that it is an excellent film, but with a certain flaw, perhaps a sacrifice to dramatic licence. The actor playing Churchill has done a good job of conveying the man and his quirks.

The film starts with an obviously ill Chamberlain yielding power, in the face of challenges from Attlee, the Labour Leader of the Opposition. The film seems to try to cast Lord Halifax, till then Chamberlain’s ‘sidekick’ as a villain scheming for power. Whilst any politician may well in his heart lust for power, and obviously deny any overt ambitions, Halifax does come across as a bit of a ‘villain’, who is manoeuvring for Churchill’s fall. It may be that he was simply terrified of another war (having been through the Great War and seen action) and lacked the stomach for another, i.e. he had the UK’s best interests at heart in his wrongful head. However, Churchill kisses hands with George VI, a frosty relationship going back to issues over Gallipoli and the Abdication crisis, with Halifax a personal friend of the King. The Conservative Party loath Churchill, Labour and the Liberals support him (perhaps looking forward to taking over the government in a National Coalition, and getting if not always their people, their policies in place for what turns out to be at least the next 80 years).

The situation in Europe deteriorates, and Churchill tries to make rally the French, as he grapples with the demands of office and others try to get used to his chaotic working style. Churchill is alarmed to find that the French have no ‘plan B’ should they fail to contain the Wehrmacht to their North West regions, and the situation worsens. Along with the disasters in France, Churchill’s situation weakens as those seeking a negotiated peace urge their case, with Halifax and Chamberlain (now revealed to have terminal cancer) planning to resign. Overtures are made by Halifax to Italy for Mussolini to help with some form of negotiated peace, but this comes to naught. The King goes to see Churchill, after considering leaving for Canada, and the two become mutually-supportive.

The film gives Churchill a chance to point out that Gallipoli might have worked but for delay in its implementation (he blames the Admirals only, not the Generals as well), and Roosevelt and Churchill have a chat, Churchill in an artfully concealed phone box. The gist of it is that the UK is on its own (at this point) the Neutrality Act ties Roosevelt’s hands, but by a ruse some fighters that Britain has paid for can be got to Canada.

The film takes a bit of a liberty with Churchill suddenly taking the Underground train in a surprisingly long one-stop journey and meeting ordinary people (with a bit of inclusive casting, which shows the common heritage amongst the English-speaking peoples). He finds the ordinary people are willing to fight, and this fortifies him to carry on and abandon defeatist thoughts. This almost breaks the Fourth Wall and I found it spoils the film a bit, it could have been done better. Also, there is no indication of the Communist sabotage of the Allied war effort either in France or in the UK.

Churchill goes to the full Cabinet and rallies support for resistance, the gist of his speech being that a noble end is better than surrender, and the consensus is that any peace would be under Mosleyites.

Matters come to a head with the encirclement of British and French forces around Dunkirk, with a smaller force in Calais sacrificed to buy time for Operation Dynamo, the evacuation. Brigadier Nicholson and his unit in Calais are shown, been told by telegram that they are to stand to the last, a heroic footnote that the film rightly notes. With Dynamo underway, Churchill rallies the House of Commons with another speech, and Chamberlain signals his support (as Leader of the Conservative Party), cementing Churchill’s position, Halifax looks on from the gallery in despair.

The film is not without humour. It rehashes a few of Churchill’s old jokes, and his constant drinking is a running theme, with booze at breakfast. Asked by the King how he manages to drink throughout the day, Churchill replies ‘Practice!‘. The end notes also apologise for depicting smoking, necessary for accuracy, but it grossly under-depicits the extent of smoking.

Having seen the film Dunkirk last year, I would say that this is a far better film, it tells the story of the wider context, it does not have a jarring switch in narrative and has hardly any CGI, which is only used to show the streams of refugees and the odd aerial attack.

It was noteworthy that a couple of Lefties were in our viewing, and at the end they moaned loudly about the film being patriotic (can there be higher praise with faint damnation?), and made parallels about Brexit. It is hard not to see the parallels with the Mrs May’s lamentable efforts at ‘negotiation’, but remember that Halifax today would not be a Remoaner, but a cautious Leaver. The Remoaners would be the Mosleyites, whose only changes have been in label and a different emphasis on race in politics eager for the UK to be subordinate to a foreign power hostile to our laws and customs, with some form of economic dirigisme in place.

And it still strikes me as remarkable that the Queen’s first Britannic Prime Minister was Churchill, and look at her last 5.

UPDATE:

I have found the Sage’s commentary on Lord Halifax in this very parish, from 2003. Halifax, the Holy Fool.

53 comments to Darkest Hour – film review

  • Lee Moore

    And it still strikes me as remarkable that the Queen’s first Britannic Prime Minister was Churchill, and look at her last 5.

    I should say the main point of democracy and limited government is to allow the country to survive morally weak, contemptible, foolish or corrupt leaders. Dictatorships work fine with morally strong, admirable, wise and honest leaders. But you want the insurance of limited government for the much higher probability that you’re going to get a fool or a knave. Or a knavish fool.

  • “The end notes also apologise for depicting smoking”

    Seriously? 🙄

  • jim jones

    I enjoyed the scene in the Tube, good to see the British showing their Hearts of Oak

  • mila

    “The Remoaners would be the Mosleyites”

    One would have to perform some serious mental gymnastics to come to this conclusion, especially when Jews voted 2-1 to remain.
    As for the film I will probably see it if only because Gary Oldman is one of the best actors of his generation.

  • Mr Ed

    One would have to perform some serious mental gymnastics to come to this conclusion, especially when Jews voted 2-1 to remain.

    Not really, may I venture that you appear to misapprehend my take on the ‘Remaoners’ vs. the ‘Remainers’, the former being those who wish the UK to remain subject to the EU, regardless of the vote, whereas Remainers would simply wish it so, but respect the referendum outcome.

    I have already pointed out that they have a different emphasis on race (as compared to the Mosleyites), so perhaps if you did a bit of a work-out beforehand, the gymnastics would come more easily. The fundamental approach to economics isn’t that different.

    The point is that some compared Halifax to one who would subjugate the UK to a foreign power willingly, as against those who wished to parley surrender for fear of a worse outcome. I think better of Halifax having seem him somewhat hard-done-by in the film, which I would accept might have been a necessary dramatic device.

    Quite how you know how Jews voted is a mystery to me, I thought it was a secret vote, and I don’t see how it is relevant. And if you conclude from this review that I am calling Remoaners ‘Mosleyites’, well your thought process is more ductile than gold or chewing gum. I am simply pointing out that Halifax et. al. at least had the UK’s best interests at heart, whereas I would put Remoaners as having the same hostility to the UK as Mosleyites, eager to see the country subjugated to foreign interests, perhaps because they despise their countrymen more than any foreign power. They have the same disrespect for their fellow countrymen.

    I was not aware of Mr Oldman before this film, he does a good job, you would probably like the film if you like him.

  • Gene

    “The end notes also apologise for depicting smoking”

    That alone proves that the kind of spirit depicted in the film is dead, to be found only in a museum, stuffed. Very dispiriting.

  • Alisa

    Having seen the film Dunkirk last year, I would say that this is a far better film, it tells the story of the wider context, it does not have a jarring switch in narrative and has hardly any CGI, which is only used to show the streams of refugees and the odd aerial attack.

    Apples and oranges – I’d say that the two films are complementary. Cinematically both are superb, and so are must-see for both reasons.

  • The end notes also apologise for depicting smoking

    A film about standing up to Hitler apologises for depicting smoking? Good job previous generations weren’t as wet at the current ones.

  • Brian Swisher

    I can see that most of you aren’t credits-sitter-throughers like me. The statement about the depiction of smoking and tobacco products is standard boilerplate these days. I personally don’t attach any particular significance to it.

  • Alisa

    Indeed, Brian. Similarly, no Nazis were harmed in the making of the film.

  • Paul Marks

    When civilised people agree to talks with beasts they, the civilised, have already lost – this Winston Churchill knew.

    People who think that war is optional “we can stay out of the war” or that peace talks with tyranny can have any other outcome than defeat, are mistaken.

    The United Kingdom could not have survived with a Europe united under a hostile power – not in relation to the 2nd World War and not in relation to the 1st World War. Indeed it was the SECOND World War where Germany had a figleaf excuse “this area of Poland used to be part of Germany”. In 1914 Germany had no figleaf, its plan was to take over areas of Russia and France that had NEVER been part of Germany – and to dominate what was left. People who think the United Kingdom could have stayed out of this and kept our independence are wrong.

    In 1940 Halifax still thought that some sort of agreement might possibly be made with Mr Hitler – and YES Mr Hitler would have offered “good terms”. That is exactly what Winston Churhill feared and he was right to do so – as Hitler (like Muhammed – whom he admired) did not regard his sworn word as binding, and this moral relativism and historicism was not an invention of Mr Hitler’s – it was dominant in German academic and political circles long before 1914.

    To negotiate with people who do not regard their sworn word as binding, is madness.

    One might as well negotiate with Marxists (“Paris Peace Accords”) or Islamists.

  • The Jannie

    It can only be better than “Dunkirk”: the most disappointing film I’ve seen for ages. While some of its vignettes were well done, overall its low-budget feel completely failed to give any idea of the scale of the disaster and the “success” which emerged from it.

  • Mr Ed

    no Nazis were harmed in the making of the film.

    I think that the message was that they were a bit butt-hurt when Churchill got in. 🙂

    And there is an odd echo of Downfall when Churchill throws everyone out of a War Cabinet/top brass meeting and calls in Halifax and Chamberlain for a private discussion, very unlike the much-parodied scene. Smoking was, of course, one of the running gags in Downfall, as shown in this clip (about an Indian Call Centre) at 26′.

  • John K

    “The Remoaners would be the Mosleyites”

    I think the point being made was after the War, Sir Oswald Mosley became quite an enthusiastic supporter of a united Europe. I think he thought it would be some sort of bulwark against Communism from the East, and Jewish financiers from the USA. Or some such.

    Anyway, the point is, Sir Oswald was not perhaps the sort of right wing ultra-nationalist one might suppose. He would have been happy with an undemocratic pan-European state run by an elite, so it is easy to see why the “European Ideal” might have appealed to him.

    I’d like to say that we can forget about the Mosley family now, except his ghastly son, the enthusiast for definitely non-Nazi themed spanking parties, is busy trying to muzzle the British press and curtail freedom of speech. Who knew he would end up so like his dear papa?

  • Jay Gruyere

    I disagree. I found the film to be laughably “fashionable”. The visual style is vacuous and mannered and the acting is irritatingly indulgent. But worst of all is the comically absurd feminine tone of the entire enterprise. The events depicted occurred in a man’s world (John Bull’s Island anyone?) where the masculine virtues and vices dominated. Where everyone in Britain knew a man, I repeat, a man, who’d been killed or incapacitated in the Great War. Yet Oldman’s Churchill spends the greater part of the movie either on the verge of tears or emoting generally. Good grief, how did this poor sensitive creature ever survive Coventry? The director’s hand is immediately tipped by the inclusion of Churchill’s secretary as a central character. Why? Merely so the entire story can be told from a (non-toxic) feminine point of view. It’s cultural agit-prop. Chick-lit melo-porn for a civilization that has forgotten but not forgiven the value of masculine traits.

  • William Newman

    “To negotiate with people who do not regard their sworn word as binding, is madness.”

    I think you can still sometimes find things that are sufficiently in the mutual interest to make it possible. Trusting the other side helps a lot, but even with justified mistrust, I think there was probably room for the US and USSR to have avoided deploying land-based MIRVs in numbers and configurations that incentivized launch on warning. And a decade or so of incentives pushing toward launch on warning (with all the possibility for catastrophic screwups that that invites) is a round of Russian roulette that is well worth avoiding if possible.

    Ending a war on a natural geographic boundary instead of wherever the forces ended up at some period of stalemate is another example of something that might be negotiable even between sides that don’t trust each other, and that could be well worth doing.

    That said, the more usual modern error of putting huge weight on going through the motions of formal negotiation is absurdly screwed up, and I think it’s considerably more urgent to fix major screwups like that than to fuss with what is these days a less common screwup of undervaluing and passing up negotiatiable solutions.

  • >Having seen the film Dunkirk last year, I would say that this is a far better film, it tells the story of the wider context, it does not have a jarring switch in narrative and has hardly any CGI, which is only used to show the streams of refugees and the odd aerial attack.

    Dunkirk didn’t have much CGI either. Which was one of the problems with it — as The Jannie says, “its low-budget feel completely failed to give any idea of the scale of the disaster and the ‘success’ which emerged from it” (although I still loved it despite that).

  • Thailover

    “But you want the insurance of limited government for the much higher probability that you’re going to get a fool or a knave. Or a knavish fool.”

    Justin Trudeau

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Some of the early scenes brought a chuckle to me- did anyone else have a flashback to Oldman’s Dracula?
    And can anyone confirm whether Churchill really had a hand in the evacuation of Dunkirk? I always thought it was a spontaneous effort, some fishermen going over to rescue a relative, others then doing the same, that sort of thing…

  • Lee Moore

    A film about standing up to Hitler apologises for depicting smoking? Good job previous generations weren’t as wet at the current ones.

    Hitler was fanatically anti-smoking, and the Nazis pursued a determined anti-smoking policy. We may just have to face the possibility that we were on the wrong side in the last war. After all, you can’t clamp down on smoking without breaking eggs.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Alisa, no Nazis were physically hurt, but they would have been emotionally hurt by the things that Churchill was saying about them. He was just lucky that they didn’t use hate-laws to silence him.

  • Runcie Balspune

    “The Remoaners would be the Mosleyites”

    One would have to perform some serious mental gymnastics to come to this conclusion, especially when Jews voted 2-1 to remain.

    The issue here is authoritarianism not fascism. Libertarians would see authoritarianism as the great enemy of freedom, and fascism is only one aspect of it, there are many others. Mosley was an authoritarian, as are many on the remain side of the debate, and many in the EU hegemony.

    A Jew can be authoritarian as much as a member of any other cultural grouping, which is a pity, seeing as libertarians can easily make evidence for how authoritarianism in all its forms is deadly for minorities that suddenly become “unwanted”, be they religious, cultural, sexual, medicinal, recreational, users of the wrong vehicle fuel, or whatever.

  • >We may just have to face the possibility that we were on the wrong side in the last war. After all, you can’t clamp down on smoking without breaking eggs.

    Well, the Left has come out on the side of the mullahs… add in the blatant anti-semitism of modern Labour… maybe the WWII history books will eventually be rewritten. 🙂

  • Mr Ed

    maybe the WWII history books will eventually be rewritten.

    Well quite a few years ago now, someone with a keen interest in UK politics (and I think a profound dislike of Labour) took clips from Downfall and cast Labour as the Nazis losing to the SNP (I know) in the Glasgow East by-election of 2008. Apart from the unfortunate profanity in the first 110 seconds (and when ‘Gordon’ is on), what strikes me is how the simile, in a generally insulting clip, doesn’t shock me.

  • Chris Cooper

    The attitude to smoking is worse in Dunkirk. At the very end of the credits there is a self-satisfied comment to the effect that no tobacco company has benefited in any way from the production of the film. It was only when I read this that it struck me – and somebody correct me if I’m wrong about this – that no-one in the film smokes at all. Pace Brian above, I attach a lot of significance to that: to me it’s an enormous, ignoble lie.

    I didn’t know till just now that something so abject as the website SmokefreeMovies existed. Not surprisingly, Dunkirk scores highly on their inverted scale of values – Darkest Hour is way down, though I can’t be bothered to decode their rating system fully.

  • It was only when I read this that it struck me – and somebody correct me if I’m wrong about this – that no-one in the film smokes at all. Pace Brian above, I attach a lot of significance to that: to me it’s an enormous, ignoble lie.

    I know two former soldiers who became heavy smokers after being involved in proper fighting. From what I can tell from historical accounts, pretty much every soldier smoked simply to cope with the stress.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Most of the gritty WW2 films and TV, from Saving Private Ryan, through Band of Brothers up to the more recent Hacksaw Ridge had heavy use of morphine in the casualty scenes, didn’t see any warnings about that though (or did I miss it?)

  • Paul Marks

    William Newman – the Soviets broke most of the treaties they signed, including the nuclear ones.

    The Nixon-Kissinger position (trust the Soviets – and the “liberal” establishment attacked Nixon for not being even weaker, they were actually worse) was discredited many decades ago – it is part of how Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. “Why not VICTORY?” is on the right lines – but “there is only VICTORY” is better. For one side to win – the other side has to lose (something that Churchill understood).

    “No one smokes in the film” – I think Winston Churchill does, at least he has a cigar in his mouth a lot of the time.

    “Winston Churchill is too emotional” – sorry but he was, like many real Victorians he wept at the drop of a hat (they had no problem expressing emotions).

    “The acting is……”

    The secretary is given a “working class” accent that she did not have – but her acting was fine.

    Mr Oldman did the good job as Winston Churchill that one would expect – and the actress who played Mrs Churchill did a good job.

    I think everyone did a good job – Halifax and Neville Chamberlain were not shown as cartoon baddies, but as people who really did believe that peace-was-the-way.

    The actor who plays Neville Chamberlain plays him with the quiet dignity that the historical character had. And Chamberlain (although not Halifax) is won over by the end.

    The King also evolved – as George VI did evolve. There is real character development – and the actor faces the problem of a man who difficulty speaking clearly.

    One point I should have made – and failed to do so.

    It is a myth that Neville Chamberlain was more Conservative than Winston Churchill – actually it was Neville Chamberlain (as one would expect from his family) who pushed “Social Reform” (ever more health, education, welfare spending, vast government housing projects and so on….) in the 1920s and 1930s.

    The state has been in the rise in this land since the early 1870s – the idea that the World Wars created a new line of history is false, they reinforced the growth of the state that was happening anyway, And the largest nation in Europe to avoid both World Wars was Sweden – which has “evolved” to have a bigger government than we do.

    As for the Beveridge Report – Beveridge was a Liberal, it was the sort of thing that Britain had been moving towards since the early 1870s, and both Liberals and Conservatives were committed to Social Reform – Labour just wanted to take it a lot further.

    There were only two dissenting voices in Cabinet when the Beveridge Report was presented – Sir Kinsley Wood and WINSTON CHURCHILL.

    Yes it was muted opposition – but one did not have Calvin Coolidge strictly-limited-government types in senior positions in Britain, it was not that kind of place. The last Prime Minister who did not really believe in Social Reform (i.e. bigger government) was, I suspect, Lord Salisbury – and he retired in 1902 and was dead in 1903, and even whilst he was in office – his government was influenced by people such as Arthur Balfour and Joseph Chamberlain.

  • bobby b

    “The attitude to smoking is worse in Dunkirk.”

    Count blessings. I’m sure that, in the next remake of the movie, the gathering of soldiers awaiting rescue will be comprised of hordes of brave Muslim feminists, and the Little Ships will be captained primarily by the local organization of transsexual pilots and Somalian volunteers.

  • William Newman

    I am aware that the Soviets were not a very good group of people to negotiate with. Indeed, for an organization which remained in power for most of a century they did a grimly amusingly dysfunctional job of managing incentives and reputation and trust at several levels. (E.g., letting it become rather clear that actively helping them successfully take over your country was all too likely to be “rewarded” with an unpleasant death is a mistake that many other similarly ambitious historical powers have managed to avoid.) But I think the examples I gave (MIRV deployments creating screwy incentives from excessive counterforce first strike instability, and settling a conflict on natural borders) are sufficiently close to self-enforcing[*] that even the Soviets’ higher-than-average perversity (and, to be fair, their somewhat realistically cynically low estimate of the willingness of rich Western countries to be firm about treaties) would not be an insuperable obstacle.

    David Friedman (and at least a few others) have written about how some kinds of human negotiated outcomes — some kinds of territoriality, for example — seem to form a continuum with analogous animal behavior. A territorial animal doesn’t need to trust a rival territorial animal very much to settle on “this far and no farther [or I will fight you, and even though you may be stronger, I will hurt you before I lose]”. The game theory of the analogous modern human behavior may be more complicated (with modern communication coupling the individual rivalry to reputation with thousands of other humans, e.g.) but sometimes I believe a simple stable underlying game can peek through the complexity and make simple negotiations stable as long as the rival’s interests can be understood, even when the rival is known to be cynically dishonest.

    Also, you can sometimes create negotiated outcomes which are cleverly engineered to finesse away some kinds of distrust. E.g., “I cut and you choose”. (Similarly, society can sometimes settle on norms with a similar finesse-away-distrust property, e.g. the “don’t kill the straying cattle, instead drive them to an inconvenient place” norm from the interesting book _Order Without Law_.)

    [*] I.e., in both cases you might be able to make quite a bit of progress, and achieve a usefully stable result, even by just doing it unilaterally and backing it with a (carefully constructed, clearly communicated, credibly believed) ultimatum. Some sorts of dysfunctional settlements share this property, as well: a strong state can demand tribute of a prosperous neighbor, or prop up a dysfunctional regime conditional on it avoiding some kinds of unwelcome behavior, and it can work to some extent even when the stronger party rationally distrusts the weaker party and relies almost entirely on crude checks and crude incentives (based on a correct understanding of the weaker party’s interests).

  • Stephen K

    “And can anyone confirm whether Churchill really had a hand in the evacuation of Dunkirk? I always thought it was a spontaneous effort, some fishermen going over to rescue a relative, others then doing the same, that sort of thing…”
    The spontaneous effort was a beautiful thing, but the heavy lifting was done by the Navy. That was a marvel of planning by Admiral Ramsay, who does not get enough credit for his contribution in WW2.

  • The Conservative Party loath Churchill, Labour and the Liberals support him

    If the film presented this as baldly as the summary states, it sounds like PC spin . The Conservative Party did not loath Churchill any more than the Conservative Party loathed Leavers in a more recent contest. The Conservative establishment opposed him in the same spirit that it opposed Leavers – with the same degree of complicity from the other parties most of the time. Labour and the Liberals had less sympathy with Churchill’s politics in general than they had with Halifax’s – but if the film, not just Mr Ed’s summary, hints that Labour and the Liberals were

    (perhaps looking forward to taking over the government in a National Coalition,

    then that would diminish my criticism.

    Churchill broke with the Tory establishment in the 30s over an issue where Labour wholly agreed with them: their approach to greater independence for India. Churchill foresaw how likely it could be that the sort of people whom the plans of Halifax would empower in India (plans which Labour criticised only for not going far enough) might behave as De Valera did when war came. (Churchill foresaw how Eire would behave when war came, as he presciently warned the house of commons in 1938.)

    In his victory broadcast of May 13th 1945, Churchill recalled the dark days when the approaches between Ulster and Scotland were the only ones wholly un-interdictable by the Germans after they held the continent from France to Norway.

    “Owing to the action of the Dublin government, so much at variance with the temper and instinct of thousands of Southern Irishmen who hastened to the battle-front to prove their ancient valour, the approaches which the southern Irish ports and airfields could so easily have guarded were closed by the hostile aircraft and U-boats. This was indeed a deadly moment in our life, and if it had not been for the loyalty and friendship of Northern Ireland we should have been forced to come to close quarters or perish forever from the earth. However, with a restraint and poise to which, I say, History will find few parallels, His Majesty’s Government never laid a violent hand upon them, though at times it would have been quite easy and quite natural, and we left the Dublin government to frolic with the German and later with the Japanese representatives to their hearts’ content.”

    (Some two weeks before Churchill spoke, De Valera called on the German Ambassador in an official visit of sympathy that his head-of-state, Adolf Hitler, had died. Two weeks earlier, De Valera did not call on the US Ambassador to express any official or private regret that his head of state, Franklin Roosevelt, had died. The Southern Irish individuals whose courage Churchill praised were subjected to petty persecutions by the Dublin government after the war.)

    We will never know if Subhas Chandra Bose and/or similar would have been controlling events in India had Labour, Halifax and all the ‘right-thinking’ people wholly determined policy five years earlier, but it would have been a risk (to the future of India as well as the rest of the world, of course).

    On another point, if the film’s “frosty relationship” suggests that the king was influencing the choice of new PM towards Halifax, not, as his actions have been interpreted, towards Churchill, that would seem very challengeable – but I guess I’ll have to see the film myself to form an opinion. A completely opposite (and, I believe, more accurate) impression is given in “The King’s Speech”.

  • Niall, I do not recall any Conservatives speaking in support of Churchill in the film. When Chamberlain throws in the towel, the ‘men in suits’ (as they would be called 23 years on) mutter disapproval of Churchill and one Conservative character mutters about him being a floor-crosser etc. suggesting that he was using the Party for his own ends. The hint was that Labour and Liberals would support Churchill as PM, but not Halifax. The Conservatives came across as ambivalent until Chamberlain finally signals his support for Churchill in the closing scenes, as Halifax looks aghast. Clearly some Conservatives suppored Churchill, but in the film, the impression I got was that the L parties were being ‘bipartisan’, although you’d have to pay close attention to get the nuance (or perhaps read in too much? 🙄 ).

    My ‘perhaps‘ is my take on the real motivation at the time.

    Re Eire, the condolences that de Valera gave at the German mission in Dublin came two weeks after the liberation of Belsen, there can have been no doubt as to what the Nazis had been doing. Dimbleby’s broadcast about Belsen was on 19th April 1945, Hitler topped his miserable self 11 days later.

  • Brian Swisher

    Niall, “Darkest Hour” does indeed get the initial relationship between the King and Churchill correct. George thought that Chamberlain had been treated very unfairly, and Churchill’s secretary, Jock Colville, thought that George was reluctant to accept Churchill as PM because of his role in the Abdication Crisis. They later developed a very warm relationship, but, at the start, it was pretty strained.

  • Jay Gruyere

    Oldman’s “Churchill was too emotional..” – “Sorry, but he was.” – Really? Churchill was too emotional? No no, don’t be sorry. I didn’t know that. So Churchill was too emotional huh? – Oh yes. “He wept at the drop of a hat.” You don’t say. At the drop of a hat. Well well well, imagine that. You know I’ve read four biographies of Churchill and not a one of the authors saw fit to include that remarkable piece of information. I suppose I could doubt the truth of what you say but gosh you speak with such omniscient certainty on the subject I feel compelled to concede. Not by the force of your argument of course, since you cite no sources or evidence, but by the sheer force of a self-regard so complacent in its own certainty it sees itself as above the citing of sources or evidence. And surely this compelling force I feel could only be the product of an intellect far superior to my own. Or perhaps it’s just the blythe arrogance of a conversational thug. Ah questions questions questions. You’re so fortunate not to have any. Ah well. It’s moments like this I wish I were as emotionally available as a Victorian. The drop of a hat, you don’t say?

  • Jay Gruyere, I have rather low tolerance of gratuitous ad hominem comments, so be aware that there is a finger hovering over the kick/ban button should you feel moved to do so again 😉

  • I’m very much +1 with Perry de Havilland (London, January 21, 2018 at 12:02 am) as regards avoiding ad hominem personal snark to each other, and Perry’s right to let his finger descend whenever the very little that is quite enough is exceeded.

    That said, Churchill belonged to the stiff-upper-lip generation, and his “For myself, I am an optimist; there does not seem to be much point in being anything else.” applied strongly to his wartime persona. During those few darkest days of the war, his wife sent him a very loving letter of advice on handling people, and this letter makes clear that he undoubtedly did suffer from extreme stress, which expressed itself not of course in weeping but in momentary lapses of courtesy to underlings (the kind of thing that would be great courtesy to underlings in Gordon Brown but was noticeable to Jack Colville as a decline in Churchill’s norm). My understanding is that, greatly helped by his wife’s letter, Churchill swiftly regained his composure. It is possible that Oldman was trying to dramatise the emotional tone of that brief episode (and more than possible that he overdoes it or gets the style wrong – I’ll decide when I see the film).

  • mickc

    The United Kingdom may well not have survived with a Europe united under a hostile power. However Europe would have been far from united under that hostile power and could well have been a drain (holding unwilling territory takes a lot of manpower). In particular the French Communists formed a large component of the Resistance;hardly likely to acquiesce to a united Nazi Europe.

    And it was not the United Kingdom which was the combatant; it was the British Empire, a considerably different entity. The British Empire would almost certainly have eventually defeated Nazi Germany and its conquered lands but naturally having suffered even more hardship than it actually occurred.

  • Mr Ed

    In particular the French Communists formed a large component of the Resistance;hardly likely to acquiesce to a united Nazi Europe.

    Quite the reverse, the French and British Communists worked hard for a Nazi victory, as I have already pointed out. It was only on 22nd June 1941 in the early hours when Barbarossa broke the Pact that they changed sides.

  • mickc

    Mr Ed
    Indeed so….they were thus emphatically not acquiescing to a united Nazi Europe either before or after 22nd June 1941….unless the USSR could be considered part of Nazi Europe which I do not.

  • Mr Ed

    mickc

    they were thus emphatically not acquiescing to a united Nazi Europe either before or after 22nd June 1941….unless the USSR could be considered part of Nazi Europe which I do not.

    I can’t get what you are saying there, I’m afraid. The French Communists were for a Nazi victory over France and the UK in 1940, as were the Soviets and the British Communists. Not just for it, but actively sabotaging the Allied war effort. Their long-term goal was, clearly, for the Soviets to prevail, when it suited Stalin (i.e. from mid-July 1941, per Icebreaker). They just turned against the Nazis a bit sooner, not because the Nazis were genocidal murderous barbarians, that was why they aided them in the first place, in aid against a common foe (the West), but because the Nazis no longer served the interests of the Soviets and were seeking to destroy them.

  • mickc

    Mr Ed
    The point I am trying to make, rather badly, is that Europe would never have been “united under a hostile power”. The European Communists would always have followed the Soviet line….which would not have been supportive of the Nazi line. Therefore Nazi dominated western Europe would not be united at all; in fact constantly in danger of internal fissure and outside threat from the Soviet Union.

  • Mr Ed

    mickc

    I see your point, sorry for my mis-apprehension. Indeed, and even the entire apparatus of Nazi terror struggled to contain the Communists once they got their orders, and were fighting from the Pripyat Marshes to the Camargue (or thereabouts). I was perhaps getting too concerned with anyone getting the impression that the Commies (well, the pro-Soviet commies) were in any way a help against Hitler in the time frame of the film. They weren’t and it should be more widely known.

    Had the Soviets struck first in the summer of 1941 and marched into Germany and on to Lisbon, it would have been game over for, at the very least, continental Europe.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Stalin had just murdered all the Generals, thinking they were in some sort of plot, so the Communists couldn’t have struck first.
    Come to that, it was the belief that the Communists were ready to take over Germany that lent some credibility to the Nazi cause, and helped Hitler’s rise to dictatorship in the early 1930s. And it was because the Germans set the communists loose in Russia in WW1 that Lenin and Stalin could take over. But did they get any thanks for it? Not on your life!

  • Mr Ed

    Stalin had just murdered all the Generals, thinking they were in some sort of plot, so the Communists couldn’t have struck first.

    I beg to differ, Stalin’s purges were part of life in the Soviet Union then, and Stalin purged before the war, during the war and after it. That the purges may have affected the Soviet Armed Forces is undoubtedly true, but that was the method.

    Consider why the Soviets had so many troops lined up close to the Soviet frontier or occupied Poland/Bessarabia. Consider how they struck at the Romanian oil fields by air within hours of Barbarossa, consider why they had mountain divisions in the steppes of the Ukraine (and look at the Carpathians), consider why they had light tanks designed for use on paved roads (which the Wehrmacht found to be rather lacking in the USSR), consider why the Soviets had all those troops near their borders and yet had no defensive plans or dispositions at all, and they had in fact dismantled defences in 1940.

    And consider who struck the first blow in WW2 (ignoring Hungary’s limited invasion of Slovakia in April 1939), it was Marshal Zhukov at Khalkhin-Gol in late August 1939, knocking out a Japanese force and giving them reasons to leave the Soviets well alone.

    The claim that the Soviets weren’t planning to attack is just Red propaganda.

  • Mr Ed, you are right to note that the communists collaborated with the nazis from the day of the nazi-soviet pact in 1939 till the day of the attack in 1941. This was despicable but mostly of minor moment in the UK, where the communists were not that strong, but more serious in France, where they did their bit to undermine French morale and facilitate Hitler’s victory. After the turnaround, communists in the west resisted Hitler (when not betraying Poles) but, except for Tito in Yugoslavia, they were never of the least strategic importance.

    However I believe you are quite wrong (in January 24, 2018 at 10:28 am) to think the Russian communists could have had a hope if they had attacked Germany in 1941. The 1939 winter war shows how badly Stalin’s purge had degraded the military. The unrolling of the 1941 campaign from its start to the onset of the rasputitsa (the mud season, mid-October to mid-November) shows how hopelessly outclassed the red army was at every level. It’s quite clear that Stalin was desperate to believe the Germans would not attack in 1941, and tried to go on believing it for hours after the attack; when he learned the Germans had reached Minsk in days, he went into shock.

    Helped with vast amounts of lendlease to compensate for their unbalanced economy, with the slow reemergence of skilled leaders from the huge bloodletting of 1941 and 42, and with a very brutal attitude to their own losses, the Russians managed, in later years, to halt and drive back the outnumbered armies of a country whose population was half theirs and which was also fighting Britain and the United States, and which had nevertheless penetrated huge distances into their country and brought them near defeat.

  • Mr Ed

    Niall,

    If you have read Icebreaker by Viktor Suvorov, you might have a different view. A book written in 1966 about the Wiking Division has (roughly from memory) following quote from June 1941 about what German aerial reconnaissance had shown of Soviet dispositions ‘Just look at that map for yourself Steiner, and tell me if that isn’t a preparation for an offensive?‘.

    If the vast numbers of Soviet troops in the Western USSR and occupied Poland/Bessarabia were preparing for defence, why were they taken by surprise? Why were mountain divisions in the Ukraine? Why were there no plans for defence, and only offensive plans? Why had the Soviets dismantled defences in their West in 1940?

    Nothing about the Soviet disposition in June 1941 makes sense unless they were caught short by the German attack. Suvorov theorises that Stalin concluded that the German plans were a bluff, as German made no preparations for winter, no winter clothing or oils were being prepared, and when winter came, the Wehrmacht was wholly unprepared, and Stalin may well have concluded that the lack of preparation meant that there were no plans to attack, forgetting that such a conclusion is predicated on Hitler not being an idiot who wouldn’t plan for Winter in Russia.

    The 1939 winter war shows how badly Stalin’s purge had degraded the military.

    No, it showed that if you attack in hellish cold with unprepared troops through forest and tundra with a lumbering, underfed, under-clothed army, highly motivated free soldiers can slow you down and human wave attacks against machine gun nests feed wolves.

    Zhukov in August 1939 smashed the Japanese. Here’s the Wiki summary:

    Zhukov decided it was time to break the stalemate.[42] At 05:45 on 20 August 1939, Soviet artillery and 557 aircraft[42] attacked Japanese positions, the first fighter-bomber offensive in Soviet Air Force history.[53] Approximately 50,000 Soviet and Mongolian soldiers of the 57th Special Corps defended the east bank of the Khalkhyn Gol. Three infantry divisions and a tank brigade crossed the river, supported by massed artillery and the Soviet Air Force. Once the Japanese were pinned down by the attack of Soviet center units, Soviet armored units swept around the flanks and attacked the Japanese in the rear, achieving a classic double envelopment. When the Soviet wings linked up at Nomonhan village on 25 August, the Japanese 23rd Infantry Division was trapped.[28][54][55] On 26 August, a Japanese counterattack to relieve the 23rd Division failed. On 27 August, the 23rd Division attempted to break out of the encirclement, but also failed. When the surrounded forces refused to surrender, they were again hit with artillery and air attacks. By 31 August, Japanese forces on the Mongolian side of the border were destroyed, leaving remnants of the 23rd Division on the Manchurian side. The Soviets had achieved their objective.

  • Mr Ed (January 24, 2018 at 2:46 pm), Halder (chief of the German general staff) briefly noted that the Russian dispositions “provoked thought” in (IIRC) late May but on closer examination determined there was no Russian intention of attack. Halder’s view was generally shared in the German command even before their attack. That propaganda claims it was a preemptive attack are repeated in a 1966 book about SS Wiking is weak evidence.

    That the Russians were deficient in plans for defence (not wholly lacking in – see for example the map exercise of spring 1941 in which Zhukov and others participated) has the same explanation as their disbandment of all partisan warfare preparations. Thanks to the purge, every red army officer knew that suggesting the glorious people’s army could be driven back a step, let alone deep into Russia, was a great way to get an interview with the NKVD about your ‘defeatism’.

    The same applies to the winter war point; thanks to the purge, the red army demonstrated its very basic incompetence by fighting in a ridiculous way, tactically and strategically, that greatly aided the Finnish defence.

    Russia had one stroke of luck. One of the soldiers in Stain’s mutinous 1920s army circle was Zhukov, and he was a good soldier. Thus a competent commander survived the purge at a relatively senior level, so was around to inflict a defeat on the Japanese at Khalkin-Gol / Nomonhan. Similarly, in 1941, Zhukov gave the Germans more trouble than other commanders. Tukhachevsky might also have done – had he not been purged, along with a very high proportion of officers, especially competent ones.

    Obviously, the same reasons that motivated Hitler to attack Stalin as soon as possible after the fall of France were motives for Stalin to defer attacking till later. It is reasonable to suppose Stalin hoped that Germany and the west would damage each other much, and he would then pick up the pieces. (He was certainly furious in private when France fell; he is recorded as saying: “How could they allow Hitler to just crush them like that” – I quote Conquest’s “Stalin, Breaker of Nations” from memory.) Stalin no doubt expected to end or betray the pact at some point – but not in 1941.

    I’m OK to put “Let us agree to disagree” on this. The weight of evidence on my side of the argument seems to me overwhelming and if we prolong this debate then comments on the surprise the Germans achieved, the soviet troops being un-concentrated and without detailed plans even for the counter-attack ordered late on 22 June 1941, the way the regime was caught flat-footed propaganda-wise on that day, with no prepared story to reverse the pro-German propaganda of the pact era, the fact that Stalin pursued absurd efforts on the day to negotiate an end to the war, etc., etc., which all tell powerfully against any Soviet thoughts of attack in that campaigning season, will clog this thread. So by all means reply as you wish and then let’s let it lie.

  • Mr Ed

    Niall,

    Your evidence is so overwhelming, that you cannot answer a single point of Suvorov’s. That’s an opportunity for comment, as lawyers say. 🙂

  • Mr Ed, I confined my reply to other points, omitting Suvurov, because the wikipedia article you link to above contains a sufficient presentation of the arguments against his thesis, under the heading ‘Historians Views.’ That section is more than half the article.

    I believe as firmly as you or Suvurov that Stalin fully intended the nazi-soviet pact to start WWII, and expected (as communist ideology would predict) that Hitler and the west would be mutually damaged by fighting each other on a WWI-style western-front, to the great advantage of Soviet Russia, communist revolutions in the west, etc. Equally, I regard Suvorov’s claim that Stalin planned to attack Hitler on July 6th 1941 in the same terms (‘incredible’, ‘almost comical’, ‘dscredited’ and derived from ‘a serious methodological flaw’) that are quoted in the article you link to, as being the consensus view of western historians.

  • Mr Ed

    Well Niall, if you call that a refutation, good luck with that. It may be that Suvorov was wrong about 6th July, but that Wikipedia section as a refutation is laughable, historians don’t deal with evidence, but speculation about events and causes. If someone were to explain away the points I made, I might consider the argument, but I can’t accept my points being ignored or brushed aside as an argument.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Mr Ed, the fact that the Nazis were able to penetrate into the Soviet Union so far shows that the Reds were unprepared for war. Or was this a clever fall-back strategy to lure them to their doom, one for which Stalin modestly claimed no credit?

  • Mr Ed

    Nicholas,

    I would put it that the Soviets were unprepared for a defensive war in June 1941. They had over 18,000 tanks (not all T-34s and KV-2s of course, many were light tanks) but they had a massive army, as against the Wehrmacht’s c. 3,000 tanks. Clearly as the fall of France showed, it’s not just numbers but how, where and when you use tanks. The Reichswehr had trained in tank warfare in secret on Soviet territory c. 1929-1933, then had practical experience in 1940.

    The Soviets had massive air forces at the start of Barbarossa, between 10,000 and 15,000 aircraft, with a massive deployment to their west:

    The Soviet Air Force in World War 2 got a very rude awakening, it endured one of the most devastating defeats in aviation history. At the time of the German attack the force consisted of about 400 000 personnel, and 10 000 to 15 000 aircraft, of which 7 500 were deployed in the Soviet’s Western theatre. Whereas the German Air Force had around 2800 aircraft deployed for Operation Barbarossa. The Germans achieved total surprised and launched an attack with about 1000 bombers against 66 airfields in the Russian border districts

    The Soviet airforces dwarfed the Luftwaffe’s forces and the RAF. 7,500 aircraft knocking about in the West, no precautions against being attacked. Why would Stalin have put so much in his western districts yet not deploy them for defence?

    And by 1938, the Soviets had almost 1,000,000 trained parachutists amongst their population, (not formed as airborne units) and a significant development of airborne forces, which are virtually useless in a defensive war, and are intended for offensive war. Their entire doctrine was offensive, they attacked the Japanese, Poles, Finns, and occupied Bessarabia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia from 1939-1940. They didn’t develop effective defensive tactics until late in 1941, when they managed to start slowing the Axis advance.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>