Fairly Recently: Must- and Should-Reads, and Writings... (June 19, 2019)

Eric Rauchway: "This, by @EliotACohen on the problems with DARKEST HOUR, is right, but one could go much further. I should be the target audience for a movie like DARKEST HOUR. I teach WW2 and I believe that next to Soviet manpower and American machinery, British stubbornness was a key to Allied victory. But this movie presents Churchill as an insecure boor who is nevertheless right about the need to oppose Nazism, and for Britain to defeat Nazism it was necessary only for friends to indulge his boorishness, bolster him in his insecurity, and opponents to yield to his dazzling rhetoric. This is wrong...

...We can see how and why it is wrong by looking at two apparently minor historical inaccuracies in the movie which, when we consider them, open up to reveal major problems in the narrative.

1) Churchill moving into 10 Downing Street upon becoming PM. It’s the occasion for a completely cringeworthy scene where Churchill’s family gather around and say haha, pop is an abusive bastard whom we’ve all enabled but now it’s going to be worth it! (I paraphrase, but not much.) Churchill didn’t move into number 10 on becoming PM. He remained in Admiralty House until mid-June. Roy Jenkins points out this was, in part, out of consideration for the toppled Neville Chamberlain. In DARKEST HOUR, Churchill moves immediately into no. 10, and also later in the war cabinet rooms literally makes Chamberlain move seats. He is, as I say, a boor. In real life, Churchill was careful of Chamberlain and showed diplomacy, because in real life Churchill was not a fool and understood politics.

2) Churchill talking to FDR on the telephone. That telephone didn’t yet exist. Churchill and FDR were communicating by encoded telegram—and had been, rather against protocol, since before Churchill became PM. In real life, during the time covered by DARKEST HOUR, they had to suspend these telegraphic communications because the Brits discovered a US code clerk had been leaking them to Nazi agents. They put that code clerk in jail, and tried very hard to keep the episode secret, because both FDR and Churchill knew that FDR had been defying the spirit of US neutrality law by assisting Britain. Both of them knew that FDR had been straining the law and political common sense (remember, in 1940 he was running for a unique 3rd term as president) by assisting Britain. But in the film, the (historically impossible) conversation makes it seem as if FDR was resisting offering aid to Britain.....

The movie has to get Dunkirk wrong also, making it seem like it’s the result of some mystical synergy between Churchill and the seagoing British people. It wasn’t—Nolan got that right—it was largely a British military operation. Something like 2/3 of the soldiers rescued off Dunkirk went off on a Royal Navy ship, not a civilian craft. But it wouldn’t suit the movie’s politics to show the Royal Navy functioning; the institutions all have to be against Churchill until he shouts elegantly at them.

>Finally (yes, this thread is a mess, but it’s a thread, what do you want) there’s the core matter of Churchill’s great speeches and the reactions to them. Churchill didn’t write the best of these speeches all himself.... The speech wasn’t greeted with tumultuous applause, but with murmurs, doubt, and less appreciation than (one MP noted) many of Chamberlain’s speeches. Again, as @RichardToye notes, it made Britons depressed, grave, sad, sick, serious—despite appreciating the quality of the language