Nazi Germany is on the move, but everyone in 1940 Britain can rest easy. Winston Churchill is finally at the helm as prime minister.
If it were only that simple.
The courageous and resolute Churchill we’ve learned about in history books is certainly courageous and resolute in Darkest Hour (PG-13) – a biographical movie now in theaters – but he has few supporters.
“We have a drunkard at the wheel,” says one members of Parliament.
“I wouldn’t let him borrow my bicycle,” says another.
Even King George VI doesn’t trust Churchill, instead supporting his rivals, including predecessor Neville Chamberlain.
“Winston lacks judgment,” the king says.
The fretting is no small matter. Hitler has conquered most of Western Europe and is on the verge of occupying France. Britain likely is next. As we learn in Darkest Hour, Chamberlain and a handful of powerful MPs – all members of Churchill’s own party – are plotting to remove him from power. Their goal: Sign another peace agreement with Hitler and hope for the best. Churchill, though, is determined to go down fighting – even though his entire army is surrounded on the beaches of Dunkirk, France.
“You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” he tells his own party.
Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight) as Churchill; Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral) as his wife, Clemmie; Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, The Dark Knight Rises) as King George VI; and Lily James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey) as Churchill’s young secretary, Elizabeth Layton.
Here is what parents should know:
1. It’s marvelous. Darkest Hour is one of the most inspiring biographies I’ve seen, and it succeeds largely because it depicts elements of Churchill’s story many Americans don’t know. He came to power following a coup and then nearly was toppled in a coup. He had to fight isolationist and dove-like tendencies within his Conservative Party, despite the ominous threat from Hitler. And he was a man full of weaknesses, including fear and doubt. The Parliament scenes are impressive. I also enjoyed the back-and-forth between Churchill and those around him, including his wife, his secretary and the king. Oldman and James are marvelous in their roles.
2. It contains very little violence. That’s because most of the scenes take place in Parliament, in Churchill’s home, or on the streets of Britain. But we do watch several bombs drop, and we do see a field hospital with several wounded men. We also hear talk of war strategy, including whether some men should be sacrificed so a larger number will survive.
3. It’s mostly family-friendly. I counted only a handful of coarse words: d—n (3); misuse of God (2). There are also several uses of British words such as “bloody,” “bum” and “bugger.” The phrase “up your bum” is heard a few times in one scene in reference to something Churchill naively did in a newspaper picture. (He showed photographers a backwards peace sign, which at the time was considered vulgar.) The movie contains no sexuality.
4. It has tons of lessons and discussion points. The on-screen Churchill provides us lessons on courage, determination, steadfastness, and overcoming fear and doubt. He also gives us a solid example on opposing evil. For parents who want to discuss the subject of war with their children, Darkest Hour is a solid entry point. Consider: A murderous mad man was marching across Europe, killing indiscriminately and wiping out an entire ethnic class. What would the world look like today if Britain and Churchill hadn’t stood firm? War is a terrible thing, but in a fallen war, it is sometimes necessary (Ecclesiastes 3:8). After all, one of the primary responsibilities of government is to protect its citizens (Romans 13:1-4). Sometimes, such efforts won’t be successful, but thankfully during the 1940s, they were.
5. Some of it is fiction. Specifically, a scene in which Churchill boards a subway and talks to everyday British citizens – a scene that led me to tears – is fictional. That’s disappointing. Churchill’s story is already entertaining. Why make something up? Still, the movie’s overarching theme is true to history.
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Darkest hour is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements.