This Was His Finest HourFriday, December 22, 2017
Yesterday afternoon Rosemary and I went to the Fifth Avenue Cinemas to see The Darkest Hour featuring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, Kristen Scott Thomas as Clemmie (Scott Thomas resembles Daniel Day-Lewis more every time I see her) and Ronald Pickup as Neville Chamberlain (and Pickup is the spitting image of my father).
Of special note for me was the performance of Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. Both Rosemary and I thought he was superb. His so-called speech impediment was understated. At the end he had us all fooled and almost out of character for a king utters the word "bugger".
The film has three elements of directorial innovation that I enjoyed. There are two London street scenes in which the camera pans to the right with the people moving in slow motion. Another has the camera looking down (first in House of Commons in Parliament and then in a war zone in Calais, and another on London itself until the persons or person seen in big becomes a dot on the screen.
The other involves Hannah Steele playing Churchill’s stenographer and later his virtual assistant. Churchill dictates his speeches in bed, from the bathroom, etc and when he does make the speeches sometimes the scenes cut from the typewriter to the location of the speech. In other situations Steele can be seen silently mouthing the speech as she listens.
And of course the film ends with Churchill’s rousing speech This was their finest hour:
"This was their finest hour" is the title commonly attributed to a speech delivered by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom on 18 June 1940.
For me this speech has a particular place in my mind and heart. It was in the late 80s that I had the good fortune to photograph actor Rod Steiger in his hotel room here in Vancouver.
I knocked on the door and a man, unshaven and wearing a black hat let me in and asked me if I wanted to have lunch with him in the room. This involved large amounts of white wine.
I was in my glory as I truly admired the man and particular for the Sydney Lumet 1964 film The Pawnbroker and the 1970 film Waterloo where he played Napoleon. And who can ever forget the Dentyne Chewing Gum (cinnamon flavour so Steiger told me) chewing sheriff in the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night?
Steiger told me that to prepare for his Napoleon he even read French and English newspapers of the day. He also, with a heavy regret, told me that the one part that eluded him was that of playing Churchill.
And then without missing a beat he recited the whole This was their finest hour speech.
And there I was incredulous but feeling blessed with my glass of white wine.