“The Darkest Hour”

Churchillian drama is abundant in cinema, but Director Joe Wright has added a tenderness not often seen in the gruff Churchill. Gary Oldman is sure to be an Oscar winner with his portrayal of Winston as Clementine’s Project. We begin with a curmudgeon in bed lighting a cigar. The spark flares as Churchill does.

The premise of the film, superbly written by Anthony McCarten, is one of ideals. Should Churchill negotiate a peace treaty with Nazi Germany or take a huge risk with the liberty of a nation?

“The Darkest Hour” begins on May 9th, 1940. We see images of helmeted men, tanks, and Hitler. Three million German troops are on Belgium’s border. The Nazi Peril has Parliament doubting that Neville Chamberlain can lead the British in wartime.

The initial bed scene with Winston’s black pen, clock, morning whiskey, and strong, secretarial demands for double-spacing his missives,  is brilliant.  His curmudgeon side has him calling his first typist a “ninconpoop” for striking the keys too loudly. Verbally abused to tears, she continues to throw the carriage. As the verbal lambasting continues, she runs from the bedside to be soothed by Kristin Scott Thomas, Churchill’s wife Clementine.

The film depiction of  Winston’s wife, Clem, had me borrowing her biography from a friend and neighbor. I was as enthralled by Kristin Scott Thomas’ portrayal, as I am with the biography written by Clementine and Winston’s  daughter Mary Soames. The book published in 1979, “ Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage” is as enlightening as the film.

Thomas was given lots to work with, and she makes quite a remarkable portrait of the force behind Churchill. She admonishes Winston with three adjectives: “…rough, rude, overbearing~not as kind as you used to be.” She calmly proceeds with a compliment: “ I want others to love and respect you as I do.” It works. The second typist, the lovely Lily James of “Cinderella” fame, fares better.

A second image of Churchill, garbed in black, has him rising in a golden elevator to heights unknown. Oldman is a marvel at showing a multi-dimensional and complex man, yet Clementine’s rejoiner to the underling typist rings true, too: “He is a man like any other”.

McCarten’s script plays up the class distinctions only to dissolve them. Churchill is depicted as never having ridden a bus, and his speech for a new administration to include all classes is balanced by his dictation given from a steamy bathroom and his monogrammed pajamas in the ready.  His  mastery of phrase will remind some that Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.

The politics of  winning the  Prime Minister post, the war cabinet map room , the seven million refugees on the move, all give the story a hefty  scope. The cinematography with its close-ups of stamps, slow motion umbrellas opening,  and  a dead soldier’s red eye reflection adds to the viewers’ understanding of truth.

After seeing this film, one will no longer just remember Churchill’s gruffness, his “Will you stop interrupting me interrupting you” . One  will remember the romantic fantasy of fighting to the end, and his: “You can not reason with a tiger when your head is in his mouth.” One will remember Dunkirk and the lonely Churchill. One will remember a king considering leaving with his family for Canadian soil. And one will remember Clementine’s wisdom  and love: “You are wise because you have doubts.”

The last minutes of this film are stirring: “We the people” stuff. Dont miss it.

“A United Kingdom”

At the start of ” A United Kingdom”, which is based on a true story, magnetic attraction between Ruth Williams ( Rosamund Pike) and Seretse Karma ( David Oyelowo) fills the screen. This is a romance which begins in 1947 London and  has political and racial impact abroad.

Seretse has been studying at Oxford when he sees Ruth at a Mission Society Dance. Their attraction at first sight is as enjoyable to watch as the dialogue written be Guy Hibbert is to mimick. This mixed-raced coupling shows jazz as the shared interest, and Seretse  “doesn’t trust Englishmen to play it”. He would be smart not to trust them for anything else either.

At first unbeknownst to Ruth, Seretse’s degree is to prepare him as heir to his tribal throne. One-hundred-and-twenty-one thousand inhabitants of Bechuanaland await his regal return. As a British protectorate, Bechuanaland ( now Botswana) borders South Africa. South African apartheid philosophy will never sanction a black- white marriage, let alone a mixed royal King and Queen.

What are the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Office to do?  They have economic interests in South Africa: gold and uranium. Watching the diplomatic antics of power gone awry is what gives this film depth. The imperial British never disappoint in colonial  condescension.

As a love story, “A United Kingdom” is superb. As a political cautionary tale, it affirms ” follow the money”. As a interracial romance, it is not as inspiring as this year’s “Loving”, but very close. Seretse tells Ruth that he will never achieve anything there (in Africa) if he leaves his heart here ( in London).

Family on both sides do little to support the couple. Seretse’ s uncle and surrogate father berates him not to “belittle his kingdom”. Ruth’s father ( Nicholas Lyndhurst) threatens to banish her if she weds Khama. ” You leave us with a life of insults.” “How many wives do you think he has?”

In Africa , neither Seretse’s uncle and nor sister support the couple. “How long before village dust gets in her eyes?”  ” You insult us all. Let him go.” Ruth and Seretse may have misjudged the hardship of their situation,but their sacrifice and mastery of themselves keep them from “being pawns in someone else’s game.”

Enjoy how the press plays an important role in preserving democracy, and the apt and timely quote: ” Not everyone is proud of what their government does on their behalf.”

Real archival photos at the film’s end, may have you looking for the 1949 secret Harrington Report. There is a lot more to this story than romance and power. Politics and the press are keenly balanced, and “A United Kingdom” is a timely historical recap.