SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Joe Wright's Darkest Hour. If you have not yet seen the film, and don't wish to know about any key details from the ending, please bookmark this page and return after your screening!
Walking away from director Joe Wright's Darkest Hour, there is one scene in particular that truly sticks with you. On the advice of King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) makes the decision to let the voice of the people guide his decisions at a crucial moment, seeking their opinions while taking a ride on the London Underground. It's a powerful moment in the movie that showcases the remarkable strength of the British people during a perilous time in history... but the truth is that the events in real life didn't exactly happen as they are portrayed. Wright recently told me,
We tried to be as accurate as possible, basically. And especially in the positions taken by the various characters - Halifax, Chamberlin, those kind of characters. I didn't want to misrepresent them, or slander them really, especially because they can't answer back. But then there are scenes in the movie, like the Underground scene for instance, which is a fictionalization of an "emotional truth," as you put it. Churchill was known to go AWOL at times, no one could find him. They didn't know where he went. And he was also known to go and visit the people of London and seek their counsel, and have a little cry with them sometimes. So you have to be very careful with all that stuff.
I am always curious about the line between factual and emotional truth that filmmakers draw when it comes to making movies based on a true story, and I had the chance to inquire about it in the case of Darkest Hour when I sat down with Joe Wright and Gary Oldman earlier this month. Interviewing the two men during the Los Angeles press day for the new movie, I asked about the accuracy of the story that is portrayed, and while discussing the idea, Wright revealed that one of the film's greatest scenes isn't actually based on specific events that happened during World War II. Instead, it is more a representation of interactions that the real Winston Churchill might have had, given the legitimately important impact that the vox populi had on his governance.
Late in Darkest Hour, Winston Churchill faces extreme challenges in his new role as Prime Minister of Great Britain, not only trying to manage the terrifying and expanding presence of Adolf Hitler in Europe, but also mounting political pressure from his rivals to enter peace talks with the Nazis. Unclear how to proceed, he decides to take a stroll down to the London Underground, and for the first time in his life hops on the Tube. He asks the individuals on the train -- all shocked by his presence -- how they feel he should handle the growing fascist threat, and he receives a uniform response: the Nazis must be defeated at all costs. It's an amazing, deeply emotional sequence, and while not entirely factual, it cuts to the heart of the times and represents a very true part of Churchill's time in office.
You can watch Joe Wright discuss the brilliant Underground scene in Darkest Hour by clicking play on the video below!
Darkest Hour, which chronicles the incredibly intense start of Winston Churchill's tenure as Prime Minister of Britain, is now in theaters in limited release. But for those of you who don't live near a major city playing the film, you'll have your own opportunity to catch it on the big screen when the feature enters wide release on December 22nd.