‘Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war'
- Sir Winston Churchill
On Wednesday last week I met Peter Lerner, who as the Israel Defence Forces’ senior spokesman manned the barricades for 25 years, fighting Israel’s corner in an ever-increasingly harsh campaign against the international media.
Was it fate that he was born in 1973, the year of the pivotal Yom Kippur War? Was it destiny that his parents emigrated to Israel from London, U.K. before his barmitzvah, so making it relatively easy for him to become as proficient in Hebrew as in his native English?
I ask this after viewing Darkest Hour, Joe Wright’s magisterial evocation of the early days of Winston Churchill’s premiership in the summer of 1940, showing how the journalist-historian-statesman enlisted, mobilised, fairly weaponised the English language, so capturing the public imagination in order to defeat the Nazis.
I am almost a generation older than Lt Col Lerner, but am sure that he is all too aware that if it were not for Churchill, neither of us – let alone the modern State of Israel - would have been born; that instead our respective parents, grandparents and great-grandparents along with the early Zionist leaders then living in Europe would have been among the millions murdered by Hitler simply because they were Jews.
Everything about Darkest Hour is vast, eternally monochrome and the Max Kryon Globe theatre’s mega-max studio near Haifa proved the place to view it.
Britain’s great offices of state soar cathedral-like into a forbidding hereafter while those most responsible for the war effort scurry like desperate rats in a cellar among the secret war rooms beneath the Mall.
Dominating all is Gary Oldman’s magnificent Churchill, at once colossus and miniature; munificent and mean; lofty and low; a mighty man of valour who at base is timid and insecure like Ben Mendelsohn’s diffident, vacillating, stuttering King George VI.
Wright and his screenwriter Anthony McCarten convince us that Clementine Churchill (Kristin Scott Thomas) is as powerful at Chartwell Manor as ever Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) is at Buckingham Palace.
So while this celebrated piece of awe-inspiring British history is played out deep in the behatted and gloved age of deference, it bears the hallmarks of being burnished by a modern egalitarian wordsmith, reflecting not only the mirror opposite characters of the monarch and his hastily-appointed premier but revealing how much they were influenced by their dearly cherished wives.
Further we are reminded of the affectionate, devoted respect Churchill ignited in ordinary civilians when in an adroitly managed invented scene on a London tube train he asks fellow passengers how he should proceed. Surrender to Hitler, he asks. Never, they insist!
© Natalie Wood (11January 2018)