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John Chuckman

COMMENT POSTED TO A FILM REVIEW BY DAVID SMITH IN THE GUARDIAN

Churchill ‘in the year of Trump’: Darkest Hour feeds America’s love for Winston

I regard Gary Oldman as one of the finest screen actors of our time.

And I’m sure he did a fine job as Winston, but I won’t be seeing it.

In general, I don’t like actors mimicking figures I have embedded in memory.

As a child, I saw many documentaries (as the “Valiant Years”) and newsreels of Churchill and as an adult I read several major biographies as well as a good amount of his own writing, including his complete history of the war.

He is definitely embedded in my memory.

The reading though provides another reason to avoid the film. Never mind “darkest hour,” Churchill himself was actually in many respects a dark figure.

The popular image of the smiling face with cigar and hat, homburg or bowler, hand held in the victory sign, has become something of a democratic symbol.

And it served a real wartime purpose, but it was something of an act. He also frequently wore a top hat on big occasions, and that was perhaps closer to the essence of the man.

Churchill was not a democrat in his bones, not at all.

He was what he sometimes quite seriously called himself, “a great man,” and he was one of the most dedicated imperialists of his time, surely close to the opposite of a democrat.

He certainly had no qualms about applying brutality against those in the far-flung corners of empire who disagreed that British Crown should represent their identity.

His own writing contains some very disparaging comments about meeting the average voter when running for office.

There was no doubt about it, he provided a great wartime symbol, and of course, that is what the film features. But I can’t see, no matter how well done, a mimicry of what was itself a kind of dramatic acting role.

Outside of war, he was neither an inspiring nor particularly able leader in government, had many outdated notions and beliefs, and advocated some terrible policies.

The people understood that and turfed him after the war, despite the notion that should be grateful for his wartime role.

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