Winston Churchill often disappeared from Downing Street or the Cabinet War Rooms and appeared somewhere in London, where he would talk to the public and find out what they were thinking. However, there is no record of him ever doing this on an underground train.
By a sad irony, John Hurt was ill with cancer when he was set to portray Neville Chamberlain, Britain's ousted Prime Minister who was dying of cancer in 1940. However, in an interview Gary Oldman said that because Hurt was so ill, he never made it to a reading and never got to film a scene. The movie was still dedicated to Hurt, as it would have been his final cinematic project.
Winston Churchill's "We will fight on the beaches" speech in 1940 was not recorded, as the House of Commons was not fitted with recording equipment then. Churchill recorded all his major wartime speeches at his home four years after the war.
Gary Oldman revealed on The Graham Norton Show (2007) that he smoked £30,000 worth of cigars on set (about 12 cigars a day) while in character as Churchill, developed nicotine poisoning and had a colonoscopy during the Christmas filming break.
The movie's end titles neglected to mention that while Winston Churchill lost the 1945 election, he later won the 1951 General Election. The Labour Party won the popular vote in 1951, although the collapse of the Liberals enabled the Conservative Party to win the most seats. In 1951 Labour won the most votes that the party has ever won and won the most votes of any political party in any election in British political history, a record not surpassed until the Conservative Party's victory in 1992 (by which time there was a much larger population and far more people had been allowed to vote since the voting age had been reduced from 21 years to 18 years in 1969).
During his "Best Performance by an Actor" acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards ceremonies, Gary Oldman thanked his wife Gisele for putting up with his "crazy for over a year," further adding that she would tell her friends, "I go to bed with Winston Churchill, but I wake up with Gary Oldman."
Near the end of the film, Halifax is depicted as saying that Winston Churchill "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle." Although having Halifax utter the phrase can be excused on grounds of "dramatic license," the quote actually originates with American news reporter Edward R. Murrow, who used it in 1954. It was used again by American President John F. Kennedy in 1963, on the occasion of Churchill being given honorary U.S. citizenship.
Set during a sweltering hot spring in 1940 England, the film was actually shot during winter. For that reason, exterior shots were kept to a minimum and the interior scenes emphasize simulated sunlight through the windows to suggest the oppressive heat.
The producers had tried to locate a genuine pre-WWII Tube train to film the Underground scene. However, none could be obtained. Instead, 1959 Tube Stock carriage, which was very similar in style to 1938 stock, was hired from the Mangapps Railway Museum and cosmetically restored to resemble a wartime train.
Although he studied Churchill closely to get his performance right, Gary Oldman told the BBC in an interview that he felt playing Churchill had to be more of a creation than an impersonation. He also tried not to be influenced by previous acclaimed screen versions of him, citing in particular those by Albert Finney and Robert Hardy.
The film deals with the political background around the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in mid-1940. This operation was also the subject of Dunkirk (2017). Both films were Best Picture nominees for the 2018 Academy Awards.
In the scene in the London Underground carriage, the verse which Churchill quotes to the girl is taken from Thomas Macauley's Lays Of Ancient Rome: "Then out spake Horatius, The Captain of the Gate: To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better Than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his gods."
The British historical characters were almost without exception played by British actors. However, the Australian Ben Mendelsohn was cast, in addition to his several acclaimed prior roles, because he has a close physical resemblance to the real King George VI, more so than Colin Firth and Jared Harris, two actors who had recently played him, and he is capable of a seamless British accent.
In his final interview before his death in August 2017, which was published by the Daily Mail online, Robert Hardy, who earned widespread acclaim and a BAFTA nomination for his performance in Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981), predicted that Oldman's portrayal would be one of the finest. He was quoted: "From everything I've seen and heard, Oldman's portrayal of Churchill is far more convincing than some other recent portrayals. He certainly looks the part, he's undergone a remarkable transformation. But it's not just his appearance - he's managed to catch the essence of the man." Hardy said it was dangerous for an actor to simply rely on Churchill's famous props such as his cigar: "It's important to get the little details right. It's not just the look, but stance, style and speech, too."
Winston Churchill jokingly says that Edward Halifax is the fourth son of an earl, and that fourth sons do not turn anything down. In fact, Halifax's father was merely a viscount; it was Edward Halifax himself who later became the first Earl of Halifax, and his three older brothers had all passed away by the time Halifax was nine years old, thereby making him his father's heir from a very early stage.
The film exaggerates the Labour Party's role in Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister. Clement Attlee was prepared to serve in a coalition government led by Viscount Halifax in 1940. The film has also been accused by critics, including American writer Adam Gopnik and Adrian Smith, emeritus professor of modern history at the University of Southampton, of downplaying the importance of Attlee in the war cabinet. They pointed out that Attlee and his Labour colleagues were completely opposed to any peace deal with Adolf Hitler in 1940 and their support for Winston Churchill's position on this was vital against Viscount Halifax.
This was the second British film about Winston Churchill in 2017, with the first being Churchill (2017) starring Brian Cox. However, Darkest Hour completely overshadowed the other film in terms of box office success, critical acclaim and awards nominations.
Extensive makeup was used to transform Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill, but to call this "aging" makeup would not be entirely accurate. In May 1940, Churchill was 65 years and six months old. Oldman turned 59 during filming.
In March 2018, the black British historian David Olusoga, known for his presenting work on the BBC, added his voice to criticism of Winston Churchill following his renewed profile in Darkest Hour, blaming him for war crimes in Africa and the Bengal Famine. Referring to Churchill's heroic portrayal in the film, Olusoga said: "Certain people, we only want to hear the good things that they do. Certain events, we only want to hear the stories that we're familiar with. And other people want to tell different stories, so we have this conflict. I think these are the history wars we are having." He also said: "So while I'm personally glad that Churchill overcame Halifax in early 1940 and it was Churchill who faced the Nazis that year and the years that followed, that doesn't mean that he wasn't somebody that was responsible, or largely responsible, for the Bengal famine of 1943-44. It doesn't mean that he wasn't someone who took part in things we would consider war crimes in Africa. It doesn't mean that his views, the things he espoused, weren't shocking to members of his Cabinet, never mind to people at the time. We're going to have to accommodate the fact that these things are true, and there are two sides to these stories and we're not good at it."
This was the third film to be theatrically released in 2017 that dealt with Operation "Dynamo," the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, France, between May and June 1940. The first was "Their Finest (2016)" and the second was "Dunkirk (2017)." Oddly enough, while "Their Finest," "Dunkirk," and "Darkest Hour" were released theatrically in that order, the events depicted in "Their Finest" took place after the events depicted in Darkest Hour, and some of the events depicted in Darkest Hour took place before Dunkirk. The three films could also be said to each show a different aspect of the operation. "Their Finest" was an insight into the cultural, social, and political impact of the evacuation on Britain and the war effort. "Dunkirk" portrayed the evacuation itself from the eyes of a British soldier, pilot, and civilian sailor involved in the operation, while, lastly, "Darkest Hour" showed Winston Churchill's role during the evacuation and in the "behind-the-scenes" political maneuvering surrounding the early period of the war.
Director Joe Wright, who is British but has a deep affection for the United States and spends a lot of his time there, suggested that this film is directly relevant to the country's political turmoil under the leadership of maverick business billionaire Donald J. Trump and the concern this was causing for the rest of the world. He said, "There's a big question in America at the moment: what does good leadership look like? Churchill resisted when it mattered most, and as I travel around America I am really impressed and optimistic at the level of resistance happening in the U.S. at the moment. After George W. Bush was elected, it wasn't the same level; there was more apathy then. Now people are very vocal and that's really positive."
Although Winston Churchill is usually celebrated as a British icon and a national hero, he is also a controversial figure on the British Left and the film's release led to many people posting articles on social media feeling that it offered a fictional and romanticized version of him. They pointed out issues such as Churchill's support for the usage of tear gas and poison gas, his use of chemical weapons on villages in Russia, his support for eugenics such as the forced sterilization of the mentally ill, his role in the sinking of RMS Lusitania and the Bengal Famine of 1943. For example, the popular left-wing actor and Labour supporter Ian Reddington even re-tweeted an article which described Churchill as "a vile racist, fanatical about violence and fiercely supportive of imperialism," while historian Louise Raw wrote an article for The Independent urging people not to forget "his problematic past." Other areas of contention left-wingers and liberals have against Churchill include his opposition to votes for women before World War I (he was famously quoted "the women's suffrage movement is only the small edge of the wedge, if we allow women to vote it will mean the loss of social structure and the rise of every liberal cause under the sun... women are well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands"), sending the Black and Tans to Ireland, his support for concentration camps in colonial Africa and his 1950s government's stepping-up of prosecutions against gay men, which of course included Alan Turing, who was famously celebrated in the film The Imitation Game (2014) and posthumously pardoned. After Oldman said at the Academy Awards "I would just like to salute Sir Winston Churchill," Shree Paradkar wrote for the Toronto Star online that the actor "might as well have danced on three million dead bodies" and questioned when there would be "a film on Winston Churchill, the barbaric monster with the blood of millions on his hands."
In an interview to promote the film, Gary Oldman said that he considered Winston Churchill to be "arguably the greatest Briton who ever lived". Like Churchill, the right-wing political leader he portrays in the film, Oldman is known to have right-wing sympathies, having revealed in an interview in 2014 that he was a libertarian, hated political correctness and believed Hollywood to have a liberal political bias by denying conservatives a podium. Among his controversial statements, he claimed that people were considered to be racist if they didn't vote for the anti-slavery movie 12 Years a Slave (2013) at the Oscars. He was also forced to apologize after defending anti-Semitic comments by fellow actor Mel Gibson.
Gary Oldman's work in this film earned him the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama, the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. At the 71st British Academy Film Awards, the film received nine nominations, including Best Film and Best British Film, Best Actor in a Leading Role (for Oldman), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (for Kristin Scott Thomas).
Adrian Smith, emeritus professor of modern history at the University of Southampton, described the film as "deeply flawed" in terms of its historical accuracy. The BBC's film critic Mark Kermode also gave it a negative review for Film 24 (2007), while acknowledging that it had "a very good cast" and Oldman's performance was worthy of an award.
Gary Oldman"s performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour would be the 22nd time the Best Actor Academy Award has been won for playing a real-life character. In his review of the film, critic Brian Tallerico even suggested that the film was made purely to get Oldman, one of Britain's most acclaimed actors for 30 years, a long overdue Oscar.
At one point in the film, Winston Churchill goes rampaging about the house looking for a book, asking, "Where's Cicero?" who was the great orator of ancient Rome. Soon after he calls for Admiral Ramsay, played by David Bamber. Bamber played Cicero in the BBC-HBO series Rome (2005).
In an article for The Guardian in 2018, the writer, broadcaster, barrister and human rights development worker Afua Hirsch described Darkest Hour as "propaganda" for Winston Churchill and "a great example of the kind of myth we like to promote in modern Britain", as it had "re-branded" Churchill as a "tube-travelling, minority-adoring genius, in line with a general understanding of him as 'the greatest Briton of all time'". In another article, she criticized the film for "perpetuating the idea that Winston Churchill stood alone, at the Darkest Hour, as Nazi fascism encroached, with Britain a small and vulnerable nation isolated in the north Atlantic. In reality the United Kingdom was at that moment an imperial power with the collective might of Indian, African, Canadian and Australian manpower, resources and wealth at its disposal."
Objecting to the way in which Churchill was portrayed in this film, a group of anti-racist protesters demonstrated at the Churchill-themed "Blighty Cafe" in London in late January 2018. Ironically, this protest and the media coverage led to the previously obscure café becoming far more popular.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The scene where Churchill travels on a London underground train and consults ordinary members of the public on whether to negotiate peace with Adolf Hitler was entirely fictional. It was added as the producers felt the film was (by obvious historical necessity) dominated by white, middle class male characters and lacked the wider diversity felt needed for a modern audience and also to suggest that Churchill was sometimes beset by doubts and uncertainty over his decisions. Many historians have criticized this interpretation, saying the historical evidence shows Churchill was always resolute in his opposition to making peace with Nazi Germany. However, Andrew Roberts has written that Churchill did consider ending the war on May 26, 1940. After Halifax suggested using the still-neutral Benito Mussolini to broker a negotiated end to the war, Churchill replied, "I would be grateful to get out of our present difficulties on such terms, provided we retained the essentials and the elements of our vital strength, even at the cost of some territory." He said that "if we could get out of this jam by giving up Malta and Gibraltar and some African colonies he would jump at it. But the only safe way was to convince Hitler that he couldn't beat us."
During the scene when Winston Churchill is talking on the phone with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Roosevelt tells him that the United States cannot deliver planes that the United Kingdom has already paid for because of the arms embargo due to the Neutrality Act. Instead, he suggests that the planes be flown to just a mile south of the Canadian border and pulled by horse into Canada for "legal" delivery. One of the main themes of the movie A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941) is a flier who "gets into trouble by flying a new fighter directly to Canada instead of to New York and letting it be towed across as the law demands."