Monday, March 26, 2018

Dramatizing Churchill

If you're going through hell, keep going.

~ Winston Churchill 

If I had to choose one person as the most influential and significant of the 20th century, my quick answer would be Winston Churchill. I think that without him and his steadfast courage in the face of unrelenting pressure to capitulate with Hitler, most of us would be speaking German.

Winston Churchill / Gary Oldman
So the movie Darkest Hour has been on my must-see list since its release, and I watched it over the weekend. Actor Gary Oldman certainly earned his Oscar in playing Winston Churchill. Oldman embodied the essence of the great statesman as no other performance I've seen. It was more than makeup and wardrobe, which were impressively authentic; it was the intense personality and determined urgency that he captured. I think it was also his humble acceptance of the challenges of the role that made Oldman's Churchill such a remarkable portrayal. As he quipped in one excellent interview, "If Winston Churchill could take on Hitler at 65, I can sit in a makeup chair for three and a half hours."

I'm a bit of a nut on Winston Churchill, as the quotation on my blog's masthead might suggest. It was as a sixth grader that I first became enthralled with this unique world leader. My social studies assignment was to select a famous person from history and write a paper about him or her. I can't remember why I chose Churchill. But I do remember being captivated by recordings of his speeches, which I checked out of the school library on vinyl records and played on my parents' record player. I listened to the famous "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech countless times, experiencing some degree of shivers and goosebumps each time I heard it. Had you been a Briton in that time and place, listening to that speech, you would've jumped out of your chair to run and find the nearest pick axe to wield against the Nazi invaders.

My only quarrel with Darkest Hour is that it dramatizes Winston Churchill to the realms of sub-hysteria. If you listen to Churchill's actual "Beaches" speech, you'll hear that his delivery is quite calm and measured. He is not ranting to the rafters, as Hollywood has Gary Oldman doing. But that is a small personal quibble with a masterpiece of a movie. Everyone who admires the difficult virtue of courage should see Darkest Hour. The film is, as Winston Churchill might have said, "Splendid!"