Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Alexander McCarten
Starring Gary Oldman & Kirsten Scott Thomas
In cinemas now
The latest film about former British PM Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour, is already being tipped for the Oscars, with Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill at the helm of speculation.
Oldman’s performance is indeed brilliant, but let us be clear. While it is a great piece of cinema that, artistically speaking, deserves many awards, it is also a film that glorifies a certifiably vile man.
When watching, we should bear in mind that Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, the man voted “greatest Briton” by the British public in 2002, was not just a “terribly inconsiderate man”, as one of his secretaries once described him. In fact, she said she’d “never known anyone who was so inconsiderate”.
Rather, he was also a staunch imperialist, a white supremacist and a eugenicist who advocated the forced sterilisation of the mentally ill, prevention of their marriage and their internment in compulsory labour camps.
In 1910, the 36-year-old Churchill, as MP for Dundee, wrote to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith warning of the “unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes” (general terms then used to describe the mentally ill and impaired).
Their rapid growth, he argued, coupled with the “steady restriction [of the] thrifty, energetic, and superior stocks” (people like himself, of course), constituted “a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate”.
He told parliament of the need for compulsory labour camps for “mental defectives” and that for “tramps and wastrels […] there ought to be proper labour colonies where they could be sent for considerable periods and made to realize their duty to the state.”
As he put it, “100,000 degenerate Britons should be forcibly sterilized and others put in labour camps to halt the decline of the British race.” In 1913, a bill he helped draft on “mental deficiencies” passed parliament — but without his proposal for forced sterilisation.
From the start of his career, Churchill declared his life’s commitment to the “improvement of the British breed.” As John Charmley, author of Churchill: The End of Glory: A Political Biography, wrote: “Churchill saw himself and Britain as being the winners in a social Darwinian hierarchy.”
The reality omitted from most depictions of our “greatest Briton,” including from Darkest Hour, is that he was both a right-wing nationalist and a white supremacist. It should be no surprise that the far right has always idolised him.
Speaking in 1902 of the “great barbaric nations who may at any time arm themselves and menace civilised nations,” he said the “Aryan stock is bound to triumph.”
In 1937, aged 62, he justified mass genocide of indigenous peoples on the grounds of white supremacy, announcing to the Palestinian Royal Commission: “I do not admit […] that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia.
“I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
Of Palestinians, he said that they are just “barbaric hordes who ate little but camel dung”.
Historian Richard Toyt’s book, Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made, showed that many of Churchill’s colleagues saw him at the more extreme end of racist and imperialist ideology, referring to him as a “Victorian” for his outdated views.
Vehemently opposed to Indian independence, Churchill declared that Gandhi “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new viceroy seated on its back. Gandhi-ism and everything it stands for will have to be […] crushed.”
He later remarked: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”
He also advocated the use of chemical weapons to repress other peoples under Britain’s imperial rule.
When Iraqis and Kurds revolted against British rule in northern Iraq in 1920, Churchill, then secretary of state at the War Office, said: “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes. It would spread a lively terror.”
You will detect none of this side of Churchill from watching Darkest Hour because, as usual, he is portrayed as a flawed but lovable rogue who endeavoured to save democracy and the free world from the jaws of fascism.
The problem with this cliched narrative, however, is that, contrary to virtually every mainstream account, Churchill was in fact explicitly and openly supportive of fascism prior to World War II, notably in Italy.
He wrote lovingly to Mussolini: “What a man! I have lost my heart! […] Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world […] If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely.”
In 1935, he wrote affectionately of Hitler: “If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.”
Like the US government and much of the British establishment at the time, including the royal family and the intelligence services, Churchill enthusiastically favoured fascism as a bulwark against Bolshevism. They only opposed fascism when German expansionary ambitions directly threatened their imperialist interests.
None of this is an exaggeration. You can, as is nowadays fashionable to say, “fact-check” it all. And this is to illustrate but a fraction of Churchill’s odiousness.
The truth is that, behind the cult-like worship and glorification of him that plagues the Anglosphere, manifested in films like Darkest Hour, Churchill was in reality a horrid man. If he were around today, he would most certainly be ridiculed and reviled by decent-minded people for his hideous views.
[Abridged from Morning Star.]