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Riding the Underground with Winston Churchill

Five minutes and 47 seconds. That’s the length of the scene when Prime Minister Winston Churchill avails himself of the Underground, also called the Tube, in the film Darkest Hour (2017), a brief and fictitious cinematic interlude, yes, but one bulging with messages for us today.

On boarding the carriage, as the English call it, Churchill sets the astonished passengers at ease by small talk and jokes. When, for instance, he asks a mother holding a baby “How old?” she answers, “Five months, sir,” then adds, “He looks like you,” to which Churchill replies, “Madam, all babies look like me.”

He then asks all those within earshot “So how are you all bearing up? Good spirits?” With these questions, we might pause to wonder when any national figure, from President Biden to members of Congress, asked ordinary Americans how we are bearing up in this time of chaos and hardship.

When one man says of the war with the Nazis, “Some people say it’s a lost cause,” Churchill replies, “Oh, lost causes is the only ones worth fighting for.” Here is a reminder to viewers of the movie to buck up and fight for the good.

When Churchill asks what they might do should the German Fascists appear in the streets above the Underground, the people call to him, “Fight!” One woman adds, “Broom handles, if we must.” And when he suggests that if “we ask nicely,” the British might receive favorable terms from Mr. Hitler, they call again, “Never!” A little girl draws his attention, and Churchill goes to sit opposite her and says, “You’ll never give up?” She answers, “No, never.”

Here again Darkest Hour fiercely proclaims the importance of resisting tyranny.

To this girl, Churchill, who knew reams of poetry by heart, then recites lines from Thomas Macaulay’s “Horatius at the Bridge”:

Then out spake brave 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,

By this point, his voice thickened with emotion, Churchill is weeping, but a young black man sitting nearby, Marcus Peters, finishes for him, “For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his gods.” Here we realize that this is a fight to the death for Great Britain and for Western civilization.

Then they arrive at the Westminster stop. When Churchill rises to leave, he looks back at the people. For just a couple of seconds, we see their faces, these men, women, and children hard-pressed by their ordeal of their war against Nazism who nevertheless refuse all talk of surrender.

And in them, if we open our eyes, we can see ourselves.

Whether they call themselves Socialists, Democrats, or Republicans, right now we have elected officials and bureaucrats who all too often are not only indifferent to the current tribulations of the American people, but who seek to control us much as a rancher might herd cattle or sheep. They rarely employ persuasion, but resort instead to the tyrannical tactics of executive orders, terror, and bullying.  By these measures, they display their own weakness, their inability to persuade citizens to follow them.

Try to imagine, difficult as it is, congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, or Dianne Feinstein strolling into a coffee shop or a Burger King located in their districts, settling themselves in a booth, and asking those around them how they are bearing up. Try to picture them actually listening to ordinary citizens rather than to their advisers, the lobbyists, or their wealthy constituents. Try to envision them offering encouragement to that father who has just lost a 20-something son to fentanyl shipped from China to Mexico, to a single mother-to-be who refused an abortion, or to a farmer who can’t buy fertilizer.

It won’t happen.

Most of our leaders are quite good at blather and talk. They seem much less adept at listening.

But as this scene in Darkest Hour implicitly tells us, we have other wellsprings of hope than our weak, incompetent, and flailing leadership. We are in fact blessed because we have so many causes worth fighting for: our civilization, our country, our liberties, our children. Rather than curse the age in which we live, we should thank God that we have the privilege to defend so many beautiful gems. And like that little girl in the movie, when asked if we will ever give up the battle, our reply must always be, “No, never.”

Image Credit: Screenshot, Darkest Hour

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4 Comments

  • Avatar
    Mary Bellingham
    August 15, 2022, 11:17 pm

    Bless your great voice of reason, discernment and understanding. As a "Churchillian" you rang a bell.

    REPLY
  • Avatar
    Kristen Bailey
    August 16, 2022, 7:05 am

    THIS

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  • Avatar
    george
    August 16, 2022, 2:24 pm

    It’s important to keep in mind that despite Churchill’s undeniable statesmanship in England’s cause he was the leader who also allied his nation with Stalin’s Soviet Russia. Pat Buchanan has argued this inaugurated a war that culminated with the deaths of some 160 million people. And perhaps many more as Timothy Snyder argues in his very convincing book, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin.

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  • Avatar
    Charles Kaufman
    October 24, 2022, 9:00 am

    Brilliant! A superb film. Churchill was “the man essential “ of the last century.

    REPLY

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