Darkest Hour, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, Director Joe Wright, Writer Anthony McCarten.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000j4wd/darkest-hour

Gary Oldman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. A snapshot of the leading Tory M.P.’s gilded life in May 1940. The phony-war stage at Blighty, where the British bulldog is the underdog. War had been declared and troops had been sent off to fight in France and Belguim, before falling back to Calais and Dunkirk.  German Panzer division and blitzkrieg tactics roll through Eastern and Western Europe. Churchill, finally gets what he most covets, the chance to lead the nation and become Prime Minster. Here it’s portrayed as a poison chalice.

Neville Chamberlaine (Ronald Pickup) after coming back waving a piece of paper, the Munich Peace Agreement with Hitler was no longer the man to lead a national coalition government with mainly Labour M.Ps. He’d also got cancer, which would shortly kill him. The Conservative Party, of which he is leader, all agree on the anybody but Churchill option. Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) an old Etonian, friend of King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) seems the right sort of chinless wonder needed to lead a divided nation. But Halifax isn’t keen, Britain is broken, a German victory inevitable, and he turns the job down. The King is also not keen on Churchill, who’d backed his brother Edward VIII as King, only for him to abdicate and marry an American divorcee. Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor apart from being notoriously mean, committing acts of fraud and treason can hardly be condemned for falling in love and acting like any other King.  Churchill’s many failings, including losing an army at Gallipoli were trotted out.  As was his boozing, if he didn’t have a glass of whisky in his hand, he had a glass of champagne, or some other alcoholic drink.

(This was a later advantage at Yalta when dealing with Stalin, who also did most of his work during the night hours and insisted on endless toasts. More than one British aide ended up unconscious with drink and had to be carried away, but Stalin and Churchill continued dividing up Europe while Franklin D. Roosevelt looked on, also with glass in hand, ready to cut a deal.)

Roosevelt plays a bit part on the phone. Stalin’s USSR is at that time was aligned with Germany and they were not yet our allies. Churchill in desperation for war supplies phones FDR, who promises the British Prime Minister, nothing much but grudging vocal support.   

Churchill was reminded that second to the King the Prime Minister’s office was the most powerful position in Britain. Hokum of The King’s Speech variety that by properly articulating some words on the radio, King George VI, who had a stammer, was able to deliver and rousing speech and save the nation.

Darkest Hour is the same film, but Churchill has no stammer, was in fact a former journalist that as Prime Minister employed six secretaries in sixteen hour shifts to take down his notes and ideas. Here we have one secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) always on call, day and night, in awe of Churchill’s brilliance, but also afraid of him. He even dictates to her when in the toilet, which lacks decorum. A tactic also used by former President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, but in this case to manipulate and intimidate those below him. Let them know their place in the world. In Darkest Hour, it’s a bumbling, comic, note.

Somehow Churchill has to make his mind up and write a speech about ‘fighting them on the beaches, fighting them on the…’ and end with that bark of ‘Never, never surrender!’  But he’s been undermined by the snake-oil salesman Halifax, who wants to cut a deal with Hitler, through official channels with Mussolini’s Italian diplomats. With Chamberlain he has prepared the stab in the back and was waiting for the right moment. He could be in fact be playing Boris Johnson to Prime Minister David Cameron, pre-Brexit, offering his whole-hearted backing.  All around Churchill are enemies.

Then Churchill goes to the people, takes a subway ride. Foreshadowing, in an earlier scene he admitted to having never being on the subway. Stalin did the same thing on the Russian subways system build by slave labour. Crowded by curious onlookers wanting to shake his hand. On the London Tube, Churchill asks the honest commuters, what would you do if the German’s arrived.

‘Fight!’ says a woman.

‘Fight!’ says a man.

‘Fight,’ says a black man.

We know, of course, Churchill advocated that the Post Office and public bodies should not employ black people, but here he was having a chat with the young fellow, who tipped his hat to the British bulldog and said he too would, ‘Fight’.  He’d find it funny fighting on the streets of London (where people spat on him, told the nigger to go home and wouldn’t rent him a house).  A politically correct symbol of Britain’s glorious Commonwealth. 

The clincher was the little school girl. She wasn’t to be left out. She wanted to fight too.

 Vox populi, the people had spoken. Churchill got the answer he wanted to a question he was asking himself. What would you do?

I know what I’d do, I’d get rid of all war metaphors and sack all Tories from office, starting with the charlatan-in-chief, little Trump, and biographer of Churchill, leader of the war cabinet against the Covid-19 virus, Boris Johnson.

 Vox populi, the people has spoken. ‘Stay Alert’. The people of Scotland have spoken.  I wish politics and life was that simple.

Josh Ireland (2018) The Traitors: A True Story of Blood, Betrayal and Deceit.

the traitors.jpg

Josh Ireland’s The Traitors was an Observer Book of the year and it’s terrific. A history book written like a novel and takes the reader from the hungry thirties to the post-war triumph of the new-world order. For those that backed the Axis powers and the Nazis, but were born in Britain, traitors to a man, there could be no redemption, but not all faced the hangman’s rope.

There are parallels now with the nineteen thirties with the growth in right-wing governments. The narcissistic demand to be worshipped and the simplistic ideology of them and us. In Trump’s world view, for example, it’s not the wicked Jews, but Muslims, non-whites, Mexicans and those that have the wrong kind of children, poor children that are suspect. They are to blame for all of society’s ills. Borders need to be reinforced. Sanctions taken. More barbed wire, walls and prisons built.  If they just had the right kind of children, rich children, we wouldn’t have these problems is the right kind of conservative belief. If governments, bureaucrats, and little men just got out of the way of the market, and gave free rein to the whip hand of employers. Stupid is, as stupid does. Britain First sounds very much like Make America Great Again and the hidden hand is an iron fist.

Oswald Mosley is surrounded by traitors. It is 28th May 1930 and in the stuffy airless chamber of the House of Commons he has been speaking, without notes, for over an hour. All around him sit men of power and influence…Britain is in the grip of a ruinous depression, and while they should be exerting every sinew to resolve what Mosley believes threatens to equal any in the country’s long and studied history, but instead ‘These old men with their long dead minds embalmed in the tombs of the past’ continue to betray the promises made to the generation who came of age in the blood and squalor of the Great War. When the veterans returned they were promised a land fit for heroes, but found themselves ignored…imprisoned in the damp and disease ridden walls of slum housing and have to bring up their children to share their misery.

Mosley, despite his star-billing, only plays a bit part in Ireland’s litany of Traitors. And such is the brilliance of Ireland’s prose I felt sympathetic toward Mosley in a way I never could towards the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse. Mosley, like Mussolini, flittered with socialism, before settling on fascism as an answer to society’s ills. The moron’s moron never had a thought but for himself and even a gifted author such as Ireland would be hard pushed to make him human.

Perhaps the closest match in this book is John Amery, son of Leo, a MP and minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition cabinet.  John Amery turns from a spoiled and rotten child into a spoiled and rotten drunken, whoring, manchild. He falls quite readily into Hitler’s plans to make the Duke of Westminster King and for Mosley to be Prime Minster in a puppet government run along the lines of the one in Paris. Amery would be high up in the new Nazi-backed British government, and imagines himself in the top job he deserves. The lies we tell ourselves are often the most honest thing about us.

William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, as he was known to tens of millions of British subjects listening to his broadcasts on the wireless, was an honest man. He had been the darling of Mosley’s fascist party in England and hated Jews with a religious intensity. There hadn’t been room in the fascist party for two such giant-sized egos so Joyce started his own fascist party, but like a pint-sized Nigel Farage, outside the glare of publicity it withered and died. When war started Joyce did the honourable thing and travelled to Berlin with his wife to offer his services to the Nazi Party. One could never imagine Farage, like the moron in the Whitehouse, ever doing anything honourable.

Harold Cole was a dishonourable thief with ideas above his station. He joined the army in the nineteen thirties and seemed to make a decent job of it, being promoted to corporal and acting as chauffer to an officer in Hong Kong, before stealing the car and fleeing. He washed up and found his feet posing as an officer in Petain’s France and claiming to help allied soldiers and winged airman get back to good old blighty. With a nod and a wink he assured those that helped him that British intelligence would reimburse him. He established a reputation and a working network, remarkably, British intelligence did start to help him. The Abwehr were also willing to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Not that Cole ever had any intention of doing such a thing. Looking after number one was his only religion and his only ideology. He was quite willing to give names, including his wife and lovers, while watching them tortured and beaten to death.

Eric Pleasants has a good Cornish ring to it, connotations of our green and pleasant land.  His father was a gamekeeper with a limp and a lungful of poisoned gas, the legacy of the war to end all wars. Eric would have prospered nowadays, careful of what he ate, he never drank or smoked, a circus strongman and wrestler, he worshipped his body. War was a mug’s game and he wasn’t playing. He had no intention of joining up. Traffic lights were invented because nobody would give way. Bring me a man and I’ll fight him to the death was his motto. Otherwise leave me alone. Interred in Jersey, sent to a French labour squad, he joined  a squad of the British legion to fight for the Germans against their putative common enemy Russia and Communism, not because he believed in it, but because of boredom, better rations and sex. He was not punished by the British government. The seven years he spent interred in the gulags of the Soviet system seemed punishment enough. His is perhaps the most interesting story.

Traitors, a vision of them and us, based on an ideology of common hatred is an old religion. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter doesn’t cover it. When the tectonic plates of world events shift, as they are doing now, in particular, with global warming and the imminent starvation of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions, simple ideology is a potent weapon for radical changes that have at their base, ironically, visions of the status quo, where the rich remain the same old tired faces, mouthing the same thing as our thirties friends. We can’t all be Judas. The world is no longer big enough.