I liked this film; I liked it a lot. It was so well done that it really made me believe I was listening to Churchill in the English House of Commons. Of course I admit I get sucked in by movies or television shows like those of Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Jobs, A Few Good Men etc.) that rely on words and ideas more than action. This film was like that. Frankly, I have loved action movies all my life, but my love has run its course. I am sick of the same thing over and over again. A Good Guy with a gun fights enormous numbers of Bad Guys with guns against enormous odds. No doubt filling the NRA with orgasmic delight. Of course this likely won’t make me skip the next Bond Film, but that only means I am weak.
I liked this movie. As Wendy Ide said in The Guardian, “words, rather than guns, are the main weapons. And wielded by Winston Churchill ( Gary Oldman), peering beadily from behind a fortification of quivering prosthetics and a battery of smouldering cigars), words can be every bit as persuasive as bullets.” I like movies that treat ideas like bullets. After all, ideas are much more powerful than bullets.
I also loved the images of musty old War Rooms filled with cigar chomping old men. Parliament again filled with musty old men and, very rarely, a brave woman. I loved the images of glasses of whiskey and drifting cigar smoke. I found the backroom politics and intellectual skirmishes could build excitement every bit as much as a Good Guy with a Gun fighting a Bad Guy with an AR-15.
Yet I have one major and one minor caveat. First the minor. I found the impromptu poll on the train absolutely unconvincing. With not a word of encouragement from Churchill would the entire train car erupt in patriotic zeal to fight the Huns? Perhaps, but to me it seemed ludicrously staged.
My major caveat was the stunning scene of a Parliament filled with cheering politicians after Churchill’s famous speech on the occasion of the evacuation at Dunkirk, even though I found it believable. It was a great speech and I love great speeches as I said. But I was disturbed by the mob clamouring for war. That image haunts me.
It reminded me of Bertrand Russell’s autobiography in which he described with astonishment the exuberance of the people in Trafalgar Square when England declared war on the Germans at the beginning of World War I. Remember that this was a war that made absolutely no sense. The war to end all wars. That didn’t work too well did it?
We should never forget how after the killing of a Hapsburg Prince in Serbia, the countries of Europe fell into a melee of war against each other in order to protect their right to colonize the world. All in order to support their local business interests. Then they called upon the world’s countries to send their sons and daughters to defeat the enemy. Yet in Trafalgar Square hundreds of people gathered to celebrate! They were ecstatic at the prospect of a dubious war. Few questioned the madness. In the First World War some 40 million civilians and soldiers were killed. And all for no good reason whatsoever.
I know there was more justification for World War II. I would not advocate “appeasing” a second time a political leader like Hitler who had already demonstrated his capacity to ignore international agreements. But I find it difficult to celebrate. The lust for war is not a pretty thing. It is particularly ugly after the fact when the losses are counted. After all In World War II 60 million were killed. Besides that it provided cover for Hitler and the Nazis to slaughter millions of Jews, and others.
I find it difficult to celebrate that. But everyone should see this movie.