It is said that if you're hungry and motoring in a hurry, unable to stop due to time constraints, ubiquitous eateries will line the road. Likewise, an analogous case exists in times of sociopolitical crisis. Looking at our current situation in America, I see metaphors everywhere.
But in viewing Gary Oldman's tour de force portrayal of Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright's "Darkest Hour," it takes no great stretch of the imagination to draw comparisons. A threat to civilization is a threat to civilization.
The difference is that while the United Kingdom and eventually most of its allies, including the United States, faced an external menace back in the WWII era, today's danger weaves its peril from within, the culprit distorting and demeaning the very institutions it disingenuously says it represents. While it takes no more than a child's ability to unmask the villain in a cartoon to recognize such evil, a confluence of factors, not the least of which is a cowardly passiveness in our Congress, currently precludes decisive, patriotic action.
While we can only hope that a spark of conscience ignites under those hell-bent on gaining financial profit and/or power, apparently at any cost, history shows that Churchill, in his moment of truth, would have none of it. That's why he's a hero, just like the history books say. While his predecessor, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, afraid that England stood no chance against the Nazis, favored appeasement, Churchill vociferously scoffed at the notion. Remember? "Never, never will we surrender!"
Alas, there were even opportunists then, single-minded politicians in Parliament with designs of their own, willing to take a chance that Herr Hitler would treat England kindly if it accepted Germany as the acknowledged ruler of the continent. How Winston, as great a Machiavellian as the most conniving of his enemies domestic and foreign, engineered the path to victory, is bracingly told here in entertainingly heartfelt terms. And when we put things in optimistic perspective, which we must, and the sooner the better, our own plight seems rather easy to solve.
Whereas Britain and the rest of the free world, along with help from Russia, had to fight a horrific war to maintain their sovereignty, all we have to do to save our republic is kindle the groundswell, protest, petition our representatives and vote. The one lucky thing for the English was that they had a champion, and a downright interesting one per Mr. Oldman's Oscar-worthy portrait of the curmudgeonly statesman. We haven't one just yet, although as Churchill proves, in a democracy it is ultimately the people themselves who must be the hero.
There is a great, heartening scene when Mr. Churchill, baffled with self-doubt and the thought that untold numbers would lose their lives in a conflict with the Axis powers, takes his first-ever trip in the London Underground to informally measure the vox populi. If the emotions rendered there, altruistic and dedicated to that greater good the human race has sought to attain ever since climbing out of the primordial mud, doesn't stir tears of pride, you might be an apt cabinet pick for the current administration. Plainly, it's the love for equality vs. the politics of divisiveness.
Therefore, aside from learning or learning anew some of the most important history in the last century, the viewer will experience a vicarious pleasure from this hour-by- hour account of how Churchill turned the tide against fascism. It is a good reminder for those of late long-faced that good can indeed triumph over evil, and often does. I believe that people, especially those from a culture that has traditionally embraced the G-d- given right and virtues of freedom, have an internal gyroscope, at the ready to right itself in the cause of liberty when need arises.
Digging down into the cerebraly exhilarating and deliciously funky depths of his prime minister, Gary Oldman examples the DNA of democratic ideals with both grand conviction and charming whimsy. For all his dyspeptic moods, heavy drinking and a raft of bad habits that Lady Clementine Churchill (Kristin Scott Thomas) is forever trying to ameliorate if not correct, he is first and foremost a patriot — a defender of the realm. An effective counterpoint, though of course dedicated to the same cause, is supplied by Ben Mendelsohn's perfectly proper King George VI.
It seems odd to say that a chronicle detailing the events that evolved into the cataclysm of WWII, resulting in mass destruction and loss of life never before seen, is a feel-good movie. All the same, Clio, the muse of history, will attest that this is precisely a situation where the knowledge of past events proves a primer for navigating the current crises. It teems with "Yes we can!" Full of noble thoughts and wisdom, with an emphasis on the importance of country over party, "Darkest Hour" points the way to the light at the end of our own dark tunnel.
"Darkest Hour," rated PG-13, is a Focus Features release directed by Joe Wright and stars Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Mendelsohn. Running time: 125 minutes
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