On New Year's Eve, I took my wife to see “Darkest Hour,” a new film about Winston Churchill's first weeks as British prime minister in May 1940. As a dramatization of history, it's a movie well worth the price of a ticket. But what does it signify for us today?
The story that “Darkest Hour” recounts, replete with generous doses of Churchillian wit, eloquence, and personal eccentricities, is, of course, quite familiar. It's also nothing short of thrilling, even if you know in advance how it will turn out.
As Churchill moves into 10 Downing Street, Nazi forces are overrunning France and Hitler seems on the verge of gaining mastery over all of Europe. The new prime minister brings to office a well-earned reputation for recklessness and unreliability. Although the situation appears desperate, he vows to continue the fight. In the eyes of cabinet colleagues, this alone demonstrates Churchill's unsuitability for national leadership. Behind the scenes, they maneuver to oust him, intending to negotiate an end to the war. Churchill himself briefly wavers. Then, bucked up by his king and some feisty Londoners encountered during an improbable ride on the Tube, he recovers his balance. In a dramatic speech, he rallies the House of Commons, thereby turning the tables on the appeasers. Britain will fight on, alone if necessary.