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299: Darkest Hour with Furman Daniel

Last year, we covered the early life of Winston Churchill with biographer Furman Daniel. Today, we’ll bring chat with Furman again to learn more about Churchill during World War II as he was depicted in the 2017 movie Darkest Hour.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Dan LeFebvre: The last time we talked, it was about the movie Young Winston, and that movie ends with Winston Churchill as he’s elected to parliament, which I believe was in 1901. And today, we’re going to be talking about Darkest Hour, which is a movie that starts in 1940. So there’s like a 39 year gap between the timeline of the movies.

And for someone like Winston Churchill, I’m sure it could be an entire episode by itself, just talking about that gap. Could you fill in the gap with an overview of Winston Churchill’s life between the timelines of the last movie, Young Winston, and today’s movie, Darkest Hour?

[00:03:06] Furman Daniel: Dan, it’s great to be back on the show and you started off with the exact right question.

What happened in between those two movies, 39 years? The short answer is Churchill Lived five lifetimes worth of stuff. He literally did things that if he, if you just did one of them, it would be a pretty doggone good life. He made and lost millions of dollars. He was a best selling author. He had children.

He redrew the line, the maps of the middle East and inadvertently created a lot of the problems we’re dealing with now in the middle East. He learned how to fly. He almost died in a car wreck in New York where he looked the wrong way because he’s British. He looked the wrong way. Stepped in front of a cab.

And almost died. He fought in World War One. He held about a dozen different political offices. You could go on and on and the reason why so many of the Churchill books are so long and all that is because he did so much for the purposes of this movie to talk about darkest hour, which I want to highlight four things that happened during this period that are really relevant for the darkest hour movie one is he switched parties, not once, but twice.

So he was initially elected as a conservative in 1901 in 1904. He reads the tea leaves of British politics and sees that public opinion is actually shifting towards the liberal party. So on the issue of free trade, he decides to switch in 1904, just three years after starting his career, switch from the conservative party to the liberal party.

He serves as a liberal for 21 years. And then in 1925, he again reads the broader political situation and says, Oh, The kind of political winds are shifting the other way. I am going to become a conservative again and changes party and then changes again. So for the purpose of this movie, a lot of why Churchill was distrusted a lot of why he was seen as an unreliable figure.

Was because he not only switched parties once, but he did it twice, and he did so in a way that seemed politically opportunistic, disloyal all that. Second thing that happens in this period is in 1908, he marries his soulmate. He marries Clementine Hauser. And she really becomes the rock, which he uses for support his soulmate, and the movie does a really good job of talking about their relationship and really showing that she was someone he trusted and she was someone who had the, Strength of character to stand up to one of the biggest strongest personalities of all time and I really think you cannot understand churchill success without understanding that relationship with clementine the third thing that happens is relevant for the movie.

He is during World War One. He’s first Lord of the Admiralty the kind of civilian head of the Royal Navy. And it’s his idea and under his leadership the British forces invade modern day Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, try to force Turkey out of the war. And the operation is an absolute disaster. So they talk about Dardanelles as one of his most prominent failures and a very prominent military failure during world war one still in world war two, people saw this as a prime example of why Churchill should not be trusted to make military decisions, how he was dangerous and would come up with these wonderful schemes that.

Sounded great, but that he couldn’t really deliver on. And therefore he’s a dangerous person to have his prime minister. And then finally in 19, from 1929 to 1940 Winston or 1930, 1929 to 1939, Winston Churchill’s out of office. He’s still holds his seat in parliament. But he does not get any kind of high office position in the British government.

This is known by by biographers as his wilderness period. And during this period, Churchill fails and fails publicly again and again, he opposes Gandhi. And British policy in India, he’s on the wrong side of a whole bunch of economic issues surrounding the great depression.

He’s on the wrong side of the abdication crisis with King Edward and then King George. And he also is one of the few people saying, Hey, Great Britain needs to be careful about Adolf Hitler. He’s ultimately proven wrong, proven correct that Adolf Hitler was dangerous and should be opposed, but for almost this entire period, he’s sounding like an unreliable kind of.

Person who’s sounding the alarm bells when they didn’t need to be sounded. So this 10 year period, Churchill is seen as being on the wrong side of all these issues. And it again, furthers this view that he’s unreliable. furthers this view that he’s a political showman and opportunist and someone who actually you wouldn’t want as the prime minister during this kind of moment of crisis.

Those are the four big things I would like to highlight as they relate to this movie. Reminds me of

[00:08:10] Dan LeFebvre: like the boy who cried wolf, like you, you keep saying things over and over again. And then it sounds obviously we know from history, with Hitler, he was correct, but.

Still, if he had all these other things that he was wrong about, he wouldn’t

[00:08:24] Furman Daniel: know. Yeah, and Churchill saw them as a principled stand, right? At the time he was seen as a political opportunist. And, he thought, for example, on Gandhi that the British should not give up their empire, and he saw that as a principled stand.

And so he, it forced him into positions of opposing legitimate grievances from the Indian people and opposing Gandhi, someone who’s now seen as a wonderful kind of example of peaceful leadership and anti colonialist kind of change, Churchill put himself in the position of taking a principled stand in a way that was not supported by the majority of the people.

And in the case of Gandhi, at least has not been borne out by history. In the case of Hitler, the people also didn’t want it. The people, very bad memories from world war one. The Great Depression had damaged the British economy. So the last thing they wanted to do was get in an arms race with Germany again, when they could be using that money on something else.

The last thing they wanted to do was get in a war with Germany again. When Great Britain had suffered several million casualties during the First World War, why would you want to do that again? And it was a willing disregard by many people in British politics, many people in the British public.

It was a kind of a willing disregard of fact. Germany was rearming. It was clear that they were doing so. But they told themselves this. We don’t need to worry about this. Germany would not be foolish enough to go war. Hitler doesn’t really mean what he says. He’s not going to just don’t take him at his word.

This is something we can deal with on the negotiation table. This is something we can ignore. And Churchill quite rightly. No, this is not something we can negotiate with. This is not something that we could ignore. We need to start building weapons. We need to start making preparations now so that if this does become violent, we can fight.

Germany Or, better yet, we can deter Nazi aggression before it starts. But he wasn’t listened to then, and again, it frames this. I like the way you said it, the boy that cried wolf kind of problem that he’d had for a 10 year period leading up to World War

[00:10:30] Dan LeFebvre: Two. Yeah like I said that, that gap period could be an entire thing by itself.

But if we shift back to the movie Darkest Hour, before we dig into the details of that, What letter grade would you give it for its historical accuracy?

[00:10:43] Furman Daniel: This is really tough. I would give it about a C for historical accuracy. And the reason why I say it’s tough is it gets so many little details and kind of character study elements 100 percent right.

And it’s such a beautifully done movie in a lot of ways. But it gets also so many things wrong and if you don’t know what to look for wrong in a particularly kind of confusing way, wrong on the timeline wrong on kind of the order of how things happen and why it overplays the severity of some of the opposition towards Churchill.

It invents scenes that we can talk about later, but it invents scenes like some of his meetings with the King and his trip in the London underground where he. Get strength from the British people and stuff like that. There’s no historical evidence that any of this happened. And it’s quite frankly, unbelievable makes for great movie scenes, but unfortunately didn’t happen the kind of way I was thinking about this.

And I’m having a hard time putting this into words, but it’s almost like the concept of the uncanny Valley. It’s humanoid robots. If you make something paradoxically enough, if you make a robot, a human robot. That looks very close to a human, but not quite right. You get this repulsion, what they call the uncanny valley of it’s close enough to be weird and it’s close enough to make you repulse as a biographer of Churchill.

I found myself in this Churchill uncanny valley to borrow a term. It gets so many things right, and it also gets so many things wrong, and some of the things it gets right are so incredibly minor, and that if you don’t know what to look for, you would miss it. Then it gets like huge things wrong in a way that, that or is frustrating and maddening.

So I have to give it a low sea despite the fact I really enjoyed the movie historically. It’s not very good .

[00:12:47] Dan LeFebvre: That’s because that, as you were saying that, it reminds me of I talked to a historian about a Saving private Ryan, and he was talking about how that is a great example of how to do a movie because it’s fictional like private.

Ryan’s not a real person, but. So they’re not trying to follow something that is, you’re going to have that uncanny valley, effect of something, but it is still historical in some way, but they, the filmmakers then have the freedom to. Make up a bunch of stuff and you’re not going to believe that it’s real anyway, because you know that this storyline is not really real as opposed to Churchill, he’s a real person.

So you’re going to assume that this is what really happened.

[00:13:20] Furman Daniel: Yeah. And in the moment I found myself caught up in it and I had to say, while you’re watching it, your brain tricks you. Oh, wow, this is great. And then you think, wait, I know better what I worry about, as a biographer, as a historian and an educator.

I worry about people that, that see it and really like it and then just assume, Hey, this is all true. I can put it in my book report or base my idea of how World War II happened based on that. And in that way, I actually, and I’m going to sound like the snobby historian. It actually is dangerous is because it’s so good and because it gives that appearance of a very high production value It actually creates more problems.

And again, I’m stuck in this Churchill Uncanny Valley.

[00:14:07] Dan LeFebvre: Hopefully people aren’t basing their reports on actual movies. The whole concept of my show Would be out if that’s if they everybody just believed them all to be true

[00:14:17] Furman Daniel: People do all the time. I to get a sidetracked, I had to often tell people that like Braveheart is really not real or, that gladiator really sorry guys.

Fun movie, great special effects, not real, students, I think this is just students, but people want to believe Certain narratives about history and they want to believe the story arc that’s provided for them. And, doing research is hard. Watching a movie is fun and easy.

And I’m guilty of this too. When you’re in the moment, it’s very hard to separate out. Oh, this really did happen. And no, this really didn’t happen. And that’s why your podcast exists. Yeah. I

[00:14:59] Dan LeFebvre: mentioned gladiator. I, my background is in visual effects and a sidetrack, but I remember when that movie came out, people were talking about, oh, it was great and everything, but that tiger is not very realistic.

And then the visual effects artists were like. That’s the only thing in the scene that’s real. Like they actually had a tiger there that they, that was real, but all of, the Coliseum and everything around obviously was all visual effects, but they actually had a tiger that they had to train.

And, obviously within distance of Gerard Butler, but they’re like, okay, so you thought this was fake, but. That was the one thing that was actually real. Wow.

[00:15:34] Furman Daniel: Okay. Yeah. It’s funny. They’re like, it’s one of those memes so you’re saying what’s real is actually what’s not.

[00:15:41] Dan LeFebvre: All right. Okay. Let’s shift back to the movie at the beginning of darkest hour happening in May of 1940. And according to the movie, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain has lost the faith of parliament. So they’re looking to replace him. And Viscount Halifax is the first choice, but he declines.

Even though his own party doesn’t really seem to like him, according to the movie, Winston Churchill is put up as the only conservative who the opposition will support. So then Chamberlain resigns, and King George appoints Churchill. Is that a pretty good depiction of how Churchill was actually become the British Prime Minister?

[00:16:19] Furman Daniel: Dan, I think it is. It’s a, obviously a very complex set of political issues and calculations, but for the purpose of the movie, That is a very good kind of short way of introducing that problem and setting up some of the tension underlying Churchill’s position as newly elected prime minister.

[00:16:38] Dan LeFebvre: That leads to my next question because in the movie we see even though Churchill is appointed as the prime minister and his first speech that he gives, people watching are actually watching Chamberlain to see if he waves his handkerchief to show support for Churchill. So Then they would follow suit oh if Chamberlain supports Churchill, then we’re gonna support Churchill, is the impression that I got.

I found that interesting, because it seems like the movie just said that Parliament has lost faith in Chamberlain, and that’s the whole reason why he’s being replaced, and then it talks, and then it’s oh, but not everybody, obviously, because some people are still following Chamberlain’s lead. So it never really seems to dig into why Chamberlain lost the faith of Parliament, why he resigned.

Can you clarify some of the reasons why Chamberlain stepped down?

[00:17:27] Furman Daniel: Sure. First of all the handkerchief as a signal to the party, whether to support or not support Churchill. There’s no evidence that actually happened. It’s a creative kind of device that the Filmmakers did and again, it’s one of those you can easily be tricked because it seems like something you could do or you would do To the broader question.

It’s important to remember that, as I said before Churchill was not trusted and old wounds heal very slowly and there are people that had known Churchill for 30 40 years and seen him as Someone that they should not trust someone that was dangerous Someone that was a schemer, someone that would gladly stab them in the back if he could get higher office or some kind of fame or fortune out of it.

So a lot of it was a personal dislike of Churchill. Some of it was also a personal like of Neville Chamberlain. Neville Chamberlain was a a true gentleman. He was a very sincere leader. And he was someone that in his own way, in his kind of understated way, the contrast to Churchill.

Got quite a bit of loyalty from his political supporters. The other thing to remember and it’s always hard as an American people didn’t serve fixed terms. They served at the kind of Whim of whatever coalition they could build in Parliament. So Churchill was able to peel off some conservative boats who thought Chamberlain was not an effective war leader And he was able to also peel off liberal and labor votes who realized they didn’t have the votes to put their own candidate as, as up as prime minister, but Churchill seemed more acceptable to them.

He would fight the war more aggressively. And he did have this kind of liberal streak in him that appealed to some of the members of the liberal and labor parties. So it’s one of those things. A lot of this was personal there, much like today, there is no, there, there is no single Tory or single liberal party, just like there’s no single Democrat or Republican party in America.

There’s factions within each one. A lot of that’s personal or a lot of that’s also regional and things like that. And then also it’s worth remembering the prime minister isn’t elected in the kind of same way. They are in the president would be elected to the United States. They have to build a coalition.

So oddly enough, the fact that Churchill had been in both major parties and was seen as this kind of somebody at least he’ll fight made him acceptable to enough conservatives and acceptable enough. Liberal and labor party members to where he could get that coat, that vote to force Neville Chamberlain out and then get a coalition that he could build to actually be prime minister himself.


[00:20:17] Dan LeFebvre: like what hurt him before switching parties ended up helping him in the long run.

[00:20:23] Furman Daniel: It’s always a temptation to say. As a historian, when you know what the answer to something is, there’s always the temptation to say, and it all worked out perfectly. So you always have to pull back and say, at the time, they didn’t know that with retro, with kind of historical perspective in retrospect, we can say a lot of Churchill’s life built up to this and the very things that made him a bad option during peacetime or a bad option when there wasn’t this kind of crisis of government actually made him a very effective wartime leader and an option that was Attractive to both political parties.


[00:20:59] Dan LeFebvre: after that first speech in the movie, that’s the the blood toil tears and sweat speech in the same people who put him in power in the movie. Now they’re saying that they wanna get rid of Churchill so they can try to negotiate peace with Nazi Germany. And then Chamberlain finally convinces Halifax to put his name back in the ring as a replacement.

And this was something that I was confused with how the movie portrays this ’cause. On one hand, Churchill’s stance on Germany never seems to falter. So it seems like the politicians in his own party should know that before, before trying to make him a prime minister. But then, I got the impression that maybe they were trying to make him the prime minister so that he could publicly fail and then they could replace him with who they really wanted.

But then, in the movie, we see When they wanted to replace Churchill with Halifax at the very beginning, Halifax turns down, turns it down. He says he doesn’t want to be prime minister. It’s not his time yet or something like that. So again, the movie seems to keep suggesting that no one wanted Churchill in power.

So again, I’ll ask you this time with Halifax to clarify this. Why would they want to replace Churchill so quickly with someone that they just offered him that position in the movie?

[00:22:13] Furman Daniel: Yeah, and here’s one of the things where I think the movie exaggerates. I think they exaggerate a lot of the kind of political scheming behind the scenes.

We’ll bait Churchill into being Prime Minister. We’ll have him publicly fail and get out in front of the issue and be too hard on fighting the war to the bitter end. And then we’ll stab him in the back and put our person that we’ve always wanted in. I’m sure people thought that way a little bit, but the, Kind of big picture was they knew Halifax was problematic and Halifax had already turned down his opportunity to be prime minister.

It turns out Halifax was very shy and he was saw himself as a background type leader, right? I’m going to be very involved in the policy. I’m going to help build coalitions, but I am not a kind of charismatic, be out front of a crowd, give a rousing speech type leader. The other thing with Halifax is.

It would have actually created a constitutional crisis to try to make him prime minister. He was actually a member of the house of lords and under British law, you couldn’t be a member of the house of lords and be prime minister. He had to be a member of the house of commons. So it would have, in addition to Halifax didn’t want the job and was self aware enough to know he wasn’t really the right person for that job.

It also would have provoked a completely different crisis in government. That would cause problems. I understand why the movie didn’t say that, but the setting up Halifax as a, as this kind of conniving Machiavellian villain waiting in the shadows to stab Churchill in the back, I think is deeply unfair to Halifax.

And I think is again, one of those, unless you really do a deep dive of the history. It’s an easy narrative to buy into. Oh, of course, this guy didn’t understand Churchill and wanted to stab him in the back. Makes for a great story. It also, in this case isn’t completely true. And like I said, I think it’s deeply unfair to Halifax.

Yeah. Yeah.

[00:24:21] Dan LeFebvre: Which as you were saying that, the constitutional crisis and earlier you had talked about the abdication of King Edward, which in itself was a constitutional crisis of something that they hadn’t had. So again, thinking, of the historical context here You don’t want multiple things.

They already had this crisis to figure out. And then this other aspect, it makes sense that it makes sense. The movie wouldn’t dive into that, but also it makes sense from a historical perspective, why Halifax wouldn’t be the right choice. Now, one

[00:24:47] Furman Daniel: thing that the movie does do is Halifax did think a negotiated settlement was the right thing for Britain.

So it doesn’t make that up. But it does exaggerate the, I’m going to stab Churchill in the back and then cut a deal.

[00:25:00] Dan LeFebvre: Is that uncanny valley you’re talking about? Yeah, absolutely. I Mentioned this briefly, but throughout the movie, there is a faction within the British government who wants to negotiate peace with Germany.

And then as the movie puts, I think the words that they use are that Germany has our country’s entire professional soldiery trapped at Dunkirk. Despite this, according to the movie, Winston Churchill seems to be basically the only person who refuses to negotiate because he doesn’t believe Hitler is someone who can be reasoned with.

And. He seems to be the only one who thinks that Hitler is the madman that he is, of course, again, looking at it from historical perspective we know things differently, but at the time was Churchill really the biggest reason that Britain didn’t negotiate with Germany, like the movie suggests?

[00:25:50] Furman Daniel: So I’ll split your question up a little bit.

The biggest reason? Yes, absolutely. But not the only reason, and we need to be really careful. Not overstating this. So Churchill absolutely wanted to fight and he saw Hitler as someone who could not be negotiated with, could not be reasoned with and that to do so would be dangerous. So the movie gets that a hundred percent right.

And as a character study on kind of the stubbornness. And kind of hatred of Adolf Hitler and everything he stood for 100 percent correct. There were lots of other people in the British government that also thought along these lines and Churchill was not the only one, the way the movie would have you suggest, or would suggest for you to believe.

So It’s important not to overstate the if it wasn’t for Churchill, everybody else was willing to cut a deal and we’d all be speaking German today. I just think that’s a dangerous kind of set of assumptions to make. But one that if you only watch the movie, you could easily see yourself going down that track.

One thing the movie doesn’t do enough, on is the importance of Dunkirk for keeping the British Army in the fight. So there, there is this alternate world where if the British cannot save a large portion of their army off the beaches at Dunkirk, and two or three hundred thousand of their soldiers are dead or captured by the Nazi, Then their ability to continue fighting is greatly reduced and potentially the idea of two or three hundred thousand soldiers being used as political pawns being used as you know prisoners of war to Get a better deal out of the bridge.

You could imagine something like that the movie talks about Dunkirk, but and shows that it is very important It actually doesn’t do enough about this keeps Britain in the war and makes resistance A much easier sell to the British people and a much less challenging kind of military political problem.

And I know this movie came out at about the same time as Dunkirk. I think it’s almost like you should do a Barbie Heimer feature. I guess you’d call it darkest Kirk or that. Those two movies when put together actually fill out the kind of politicals and military situation pretty well.

But if you just watch Darkest Hour, you might not fully comprehend the massive scale of the British rescue effort at Dunkirk, and how important that was politically to show that someone like Churchill could actually pull off something like the Dunkirk ex bill, but also militarily.

Oh, wow. We saved the majority of our professional army right out from under the noses of the Nazi army. And now we have a professional force that’s at home that can protect the homeland and they can be built out and actually used for a cross channel invasion later. So it really doesn’t get how important that was in saving not only Churchill’s political career, but the British.

[00:28:54] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah, which to some degree I can understand that that Dunkirk is a whole other story too. Again, obviously it could be a movie in and of itself. So yeah, speaking of Dunkirk though, one thing that we do see in Darkest Hour, is Churchill seems to be the one to have the idea. He tells Admiral Ramsey to call for an assembly of civilian boats to help evacuate the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk.

Was it really Churchill’s idea to use civilian boats?

[00:29:23] Furman Daniel: So no Churchill allowed that to go on. He pushed very hard to use civilian boats and to use the Royal Navy to do but no, the Admiralty had actually been planning. Various different kind of ways to use civilian craft for pretty much the entire and the small boats thing is also one of those things when we talk about Dunkirk, the small boats and the kind of individual patriotic British citizens going out in groups of ones and twos to pull people off the beach is also a very tiny part of the actual Dunkirk operation.

I’ve seen estimates that maybe only 000 of the soldiers were saved by the small boats. If you’re one of those 10 if that’s your brother or dad, it’s really important. But about 300, 000 Allied soldiers were pulled off the beach during the Operation Dynamo exercise. A very small percent were pulled off by small craft.

Most of them were done by large craft that could actually come up to the dock there. right off the beach and load hundreds at a time rather than onesies and twosies on small boats. So the small boats thing wasn’t really Churchill’s idea. And it also wasn’t a particularly large part of the Dunkirk thing, despite the fact it was, it’s just the memorable part.

And it’s the fun part. And it’s the kind of heroic, great story about the British people coming together. Unfortunately, it’s not. That important, really

[00:30:49] Dan LeFebvre: something speaking of the rescue there at Dunkirk, I have to ask because in the movie, Churchill’s on the phone with Ramsey and he’s Oh, we need a name for the operation and Ramsey just looks down to a fan sitting on the ground.

And the brand name of the fan is Dynamo. And of course, we know from history that the rescue at Dunkirk is Operation Dynamo. Was it really named after

[00:31:09] Furman Daniel: a fan? No. And that’s one of the kind of enduring name. Legends about the Dunkirk operation is that it was named after a fan or an air conditioner and there’s various different versions of this, but they’ve pretty much all been debunked.

Some people say Churchill did it, some people say Ramsey did it, some people say Admiralty planners did it no, it’s not named after a fan, even though there were fans named Dynamo and even though the operation became known as Operation

[00:31:35] Dan LeFebvre: Dynamo. I was gonna say, how do you not turn that into a, some sort of marketing or ad campaign?

I’m sure that would, that would have to be if that’s actually true.

[00:31:43] Furman Daniel: Yeah, no, not true. Sorry.

[00:31:45] Dan LeFebvre: Makes for a good moment in the movie, but not true. There you go. Yeah,

[00:31:48] Furman Daniel: absolutely.

[00:31:50] Dan LeFebvre: Another idea that Churchill has in the movie to help the soldiers at Dunkirk is to order a garrison at Calais to engage with The German columns for as long as possible, as the movie puts it, they’re sacrificing the 4, 000 men there to save the 300, 000 men at Dunkirk, although the movie makes it clear that Churchill seems to think there, it would be a miracle to get 10 percent of that 300, 000 out, but Churchill sends a telegram to the man in charge at Kelly, the British I’m sorry, the Brigadier Nicholson is his name, and he basically says, Your men are not going to be evacuated.

The movie makes it clear that this is a sacrifice operation. And almost immediately after that, we see German bombers flying over. They drop bombs and we see a message saying that Kelly has fallen. How old did the movie do telling what happened at Kelly?

[00:32:44] Furman Daniel: Overall, that’s a good summation of some of the military and planning problems that Churchill had to deal with.

What the allies did is they put a defensive perimeter. As far out as they possibly could around the Dunkirk beaches. And if you’re in that defensive perimeter, your orders were to delay the German army as long as you possibly could. There were garrisons at Calais, there were garrisons all along this kind of defensive perimeter.

And they. Basically, we’re suicide units. You will be sacrificed, but you will save hopefully tens of thousands of people with your sacrifice. wHat the movie doesn’t talk about, it oversimplifies a whole bunch of very complex military movements. The French army actually provided a lot of that kind of defensive perimeter.

So the French sacrifice to allow the Dunkirk evacuations very important. And you don’t really hear about it in the movie. I get why, but you don’t. The other thing is the Churchill and the Admiralty planners did think maybe they could get 20, people off the beach. So about 10%. Their initial estimates were much lower than what they actually got off.

The German army actually was slowed down by these kind of perimeter unit perimeter defense units that sacrificed to pull off the thing and then actually Hitler ordered his advancing units to stop for a couple of days. It’s one of those kind of great. debates in history. Why did Hitler order them to stop?

Did he think the allies were about to bargain with him and that he could get a better deal if he was nice? Were the units overextended and needed to regroup so it was just a military stop that was necessitated by them kind of outrunning their supplies? Was it that he believed his chief of air Herman Goering, that they could bomb the beachheads into surrendering?

There’s still to this day an open question about why The German Panzer stopped for as long as they did. The fact of the matter is a combination of these things, the perimeter units fighting very hard the German army stopping and then an extraordinary effort from mostly big ships from the Royal Navy pulling those people off the beach, far exceeded anything Churchill or the Admiralty planners.

We’re imagining when they first ordered the operation they’d this, like I said, they saved about 300, 000 when some of their early estimates were 000. It was a miracle at Dunkirk. It truly kept the British army in the war and save, third of a million people Churchill understood this as the deliverance of the British army from certain destruction.

He also did caution, however, that wars are not won by evacuations was his wonderful one liner, right? There is still hard fighting left to do, but thank God we were, not completely destroyed so that we can do that hard fighting later.

[00:35:31] Dan LeFebvre: Which makes sense. I like that. You pointed out that.

The French were a big involvement there because yeah, we don’t see any of that in the movie. It’s you know, this is The british it’s all a british thing And it seems like they’re the only ones that are sacrificing themselves at calais, which kind of implies that they’re the only ones that sacrificed but yeah, the There was a lot more for sure.

In the movie, soon after Kelly Falls, we hear I think it’s General Ironside telling how the Germans are likely going to invade England. He says that they’re going to use fast motorboats with one to 200 men each, and they’re going to land on the coast simultaneously with airborne raids, and there’s really nothing that Britain can do to prevent these landings.

And then he tells Churchill that we have to start preparing for an imminent invasion. We don’t really see if they do any of their preparations in the movie, but at least is it correct to suggest that the military suggested that they needed to prepare for an invasion?

[00:36:29] Furman Daniel: Yes, there was quite a bit of fear that the German army would be able to rapidly transport across the English Channel and invade England.

There was also lots of fear and paranoia about German paratroopers landing in Great Britain as well. Interestingly enough, this is one of the things that there was, while there was a lot of fear at the time, and I don’t want to discount the fears of military planners and the fears of the British public, this actually was not a particularly realistic thing for the Germans to do.

Germany was primarily a land power. They did not have a large navy. They, would not have been able to do this type of operation as described in the movie. They just didn’t have the number of ships. They didn’t have the kind of heavy airlift capacity to get a large portion of their army in airplanes and move them across even a relatively small amount of water, the British Channel.

Churchill, interestingly enough after the initial invasion scares were over, actually wanted the Germans to try to invade because he thought they would fail and lose a large part of their army in a failed invasion. But it turns out now that the Germans, especially right after the defeat of France, were not in a position to be able to directly invade the British coast.

And if they’d have tried, they would have almost certainly failed, because they would not have been able to get a large number of people over, they would not have been able to keep them fed, keep them supplied with ammunition and things like that you need to fight, and would have almost certainly lost.

Having said that, to your question about British preparation the British realized that they, needed to prepare, and so they created what’s called the Home Guard, which is everything from kind of young boys to old men with a whole wide range of weapons and Kind of uniforms and training like that.

Think of a local militia for, they also got volunteers to be co coast watchers. So to look out for boats and look out for an invasion force, they got people to be air raid wardens, to go around and see if there were paratroopers to listen for and look for a German aircraft flying over. And in this respect the British people and the British government did a fantastic job of organizing their people for war and for kind of a total defense of their Island, the way Churchill talked about it, that we will defend our Island, whatever the cost is going to be, and we’re going to fight in the streets and in the hills and on the beaches and landing grounds and all that wonderful stuff.

They really did that. And fortunately for them they never had to use it. But in the moment there was a absolute true fear of an invasion. They thought it was going to happen any day and they made preparations for it. We know now that was never a particularly realistic kind of thing for the Germans to do.

And actually Hitler’s best hope and when what he wanted was to cut some kind of deal with the party, in opposition to Churchill with them cut some deal. You can keep your overseas empire and part of your fleet. If you recognize me as the kind of master of continental Europe. Hitler would have almost certainly taken that deal in part because of the difficulty of invasion and part because he wanted to move East and attack Russia.

[00:39:43] Dan LeFebvre: Thinking of the things that we know now versus what they knew then did the British to Churchill British no. That’s Nazi Germany would have had such a hard time transporting their troops across the channel or did they think, Oh, we don’t really know all, for all we know, they do have this great Navy that we just don’t know yet.

[00:40:03] Furman Daniel: They had pretty good naval intelligence that about these kind of size and strength of the German Navy. They also realized that the kind of second biggest fleet in the world was the Royal Navy and that in the event of a. Attack across the channel. It’s one of those things they could sortie their Navy.

And, if there ever was a moment for the Royal Navy to fight, to sacrifice that would be it to directly repel an invasion across the channel part of why the battle of Britain and the air battles and things that happen after the fall of France are so important is Germany’s plan was to use.

Barges and give them lots of air cover if they could win air supremacy over the English channel, give them lots of air cover and surge very quickly as a surprise attack across the English channel before the British could bring their fleets in. But even that was, would have been a very difficult operation to pull off.

And it was built on the assumption of German air dominance, which never happened. yeAh, we know now it was pretty unlikely. And part of why Churchill was as confident as he was that he realized it was a very difficult military operation, especially as long as the British air force and Navy were still in place.

Yeah. Yeah.

[00:41:16] Dan LeFebvre: It sounds almost what we saw with the Germans doing with Blitzkrieg almost, just a little bit across the channel, but with air superiority being, being necessary for that.

[00:41:28] Furman Daniel: A comparable kind of thing is the allied invasion across that same body of water, four years later the Americans and British had enormous economic advantages.

They had unchallenged naval and air dominance, and they built up their forces for several years prior to the D Day invasion. And they had complete surprise. The Germans did not know they were coming. And they still almost failed at the D Day landings. It was closer than a lot of the Allied planners would have wanted.

So they had massive air advantage, massive naval advantage, two years to build up, a lot more stuff, and complete surprise at the point of attack, and still almost lost. The Germans couldn’t count on any of that. They couldn’t count on surprise, they couldn’t count on Naval or air, they didn’t have, two years to build up.

They had to do it quickly, right? All those things that had to go right for the Americans and the British to do it four years later would’ve had to go right. For a German military that was much smaller, much poorer, had much less time and much less capability.

[00:42:31] Dan LeFebvre: That’s a good, that’s a great point. I’d never thought of the comparison to

[00:42:35] Furman Daniel: D-Day.

Yeah. The best case scenario I’ve ever seen for what a German invasion would look like. British general Kenneth McCaskey did a thought experiment, fixed fictitious kind of war plan for what a German invasion would look like. It’s called invasion. They’re coming. And he says the best case scenario, it’s still really hard for the Germans to pull off.

One of his workarounds for British naval dominance is in theory, the Germans could put a lot of naval mines in the English channel to stop the British naval forces for coming over. But even that I find really hard to.

[00:43:13] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah and that all makes perfect sense. It also makes sense, with the movies suggesting that even though it’s really not likely, we still should have some sort of preparation just in case, because you never know.

[00:43:27] Furman Daniel: Yeah and the home guard and other preparedness kind of measures that the British did. They were really good for morale because what can I do? I’m an old, world war one veteran. I’m too old to fight. And I, what can I do? I can guard the beach. I can man a radio or a telephone and stay up late and see if the Germans are going to invade the beach tonight.

That is very good for national unity and morale. And it’s one of the things Churchill understood is that if the British people got together and thought they could win and thought they all had a job to do victory could be had. And I think, if you think about the importance of Winston Churchill’s speeches.

And if you think about the importance of him as a war leader, that kind of national unity and that national sense of purpose that he brought out with his speeches and that kind of morale. And yes, victory will not be easy. It will be blood, toils, tears, and sweat but we can win if we all work together.

I think that’s Churchill’s biggest contribution during the timeframe of this movie, but also more generally in terms of allied victory in World War II. Near the

[00:44:35] Dan LeFebvre: end of the movie. We see a turnaround for the support for Churchill. He has a meeting with King George and he tells Churchill that even though some of the country dreaded his appointment as prime minister, Churchill’s appointment as prime minister, Adolf Hitler dreaded it even more.

And whomever can strike fear into that brute heart, he’s what King George says is worthy of all of our trust. And the movie, this happens on May 27th, there’s dates that are shown in the movie, and the movie started on May 9th, so it really didn’t seem to take long for Churchill to get the king’s support, but it sounds like the king started to support Churchill, not really because of anything that Churchill did, but because how much Hitler didn’t like Churchill.

And then the next day in the movie’s timeline, we see Chamberlain is now seems to be supporting Churchill as well. Churchill gives his, we shall never surrender speech and Chamberlain supports him after that. Can you fill in some more context around how Churchill eventually won over the support of those who seemed to oppose him before?

[00:45:36] Furman Daniel: So in, in regards to the King King George did not like trust, Churchill did not trust Churchill and whole bunch of reasons, many of which we’ve already discussed, mostly going back to this view that Churchill was a schemer and kind of this dangerous political opportunist and showman. And the biggest kind of example, at least in King George’s mind, was that he’d actually backed his brother during the abdication crisis.

So Initially the relationship there was very rocky. There was no one point where Churchill and the king made up and were friends and trusted each other. And the scene where the king visits Churchill in the middle of the night and they, smoke together and all of a sudden they’re friends.

Wonderful scene, completely fictitious. Did not happen would not have happened that way. But it does speak to a broader kind of and I would say slower change in their relationship within several months, I would say. The King realized Churchill was serious, realized that the British people could win, realized that, if they did work together, victory was possible.

And that Churchill was the person to do that, but there was no one moment. And there was, and it was, I would say slower and more gradual than the movie would have you suggest, but absolutely one of Churchill’s greatest kind of abilities was to win people over. And he won over a very tough audience. In King George and by the end of the war, they were very close and that they genuinely respected and loved each other.

They trusted each other and we’re friends by the end of the war. But the way the movie shows it, it’s a little too convenient. It’s wrapped up in too tight of a package. With a bow on top. It’s just not true. Neville Chamberlain, like I was trying to say earlier he did not particularly like or trust Churchill.

But he also was not in this kind of backstabbing cabal ready to pounce on Churchill. at a moment’s notice quite the way the movie says it. He could have been prime minister again, potentially. So he needed to be seen as working with Churchill. He needed to be seen as a loyal member of the Tory party.

So he needed to be careful. anD Churchill, the movie actually doesn’t do this justice. Churchill was actually able to silence potential dissent from Chamberlain by actually including him in his cabinet. Movie shows that he includes him in his cabinet, but actually makes it out to be a bigger liability for Churchill than it was.

Churchill was actually brilliant by bringing people in to his cabinet that, that opposed him. And then understanding that they needed to not be seen as disloyal. So actually wait, if I wasn’t in the cabinet, I could go behind Churchill’s back and talk bad. But because I am in the cabinet, I actually need to at least pretend publicly that I don’t have all these issues that I’m that I might have was the way it worked.

So Churchill was actually very smart to bring some of these people into his cabinet, and it actually pushed down on dissent rather than the way the movie portrays it, which is There’s traitors behind every, desk. You

[00:48:46] Dan LeFebvre: were talking about that fictitious scene with the King and Churchill, and you alluded to this earlier, but at near the end of the movie, there is a moment after just before actually Churchill’s, we shall never surrender speech.

Churchill just disappears from the war cabinet. He goes on the subway. Everyone on the train recognizes him. And he, it just seems like he’s using these people on the train as A focus group, and from that he gets the idea that, oh, the ordinary British citizens agree with my perspective that we shouldn’t negotiate a peace with Germany.

And you mentioned earlier that scene didn’t happen, but did he do that sort of thing at all, or was there anything to base that on? So yeah,

[00:49:24] Furman Daniel: the scene didn’t happen, and I wish it did, because it really is a beautiful scene. He was very good with common people throughout his kind of political career.

He was good at a quick joke. He was good at. Showing that he cared asking about people’s jobs and showing genuine interest in kind of their day to day life. And he would ask people how they felt about issues. So again, there is an element of truth to that scene in that he could do those types of things.

He was a politician and it was important to be able to do that kind of what we call today, retail politics. Shake hands, kiss babies make jokes, things like that. He was brilliant at that. There’s zero evidence that he did anything like that. During this kind of time period. What I will say, I’ll say two other things though.

That scene has half a dozen little small things where even though that scene is a lie and a kind of a dangerous lie, whoever wrote it actually knew a fair amount about Churchill. There’s the scene where he starts quoting from Macaulay, the poet Macaulay’s lays of ancient Rome’s about the fighting for the temples of our gods.

That was one of Churchill’s favorite poems. And he actually, as a school boy had won a prize at school for memorizing some enormous amount. It’s a very long poem. He memorized hundreds of lines of that poem and won an award from school for that. That was not picked by accident, that is, so whoever picked that poem knew it was an important poem for Churchill and that he would have had it memorized.

So again, this kind of odd and uncanny valley of, wow, that’s really close, but it’s also completely happened. The other thing that he makes a joke about the little baby he looks like you and he says, ma’am, all babies look like me. That is a joke he commonly used and he used for years and years.

That he looked like a little infant baby when he would do these types of things when he would meet somebody, as a politician, you’re going to meet babies, right? So people like to have a politician. Bus over their baby. That was a common joke he used again. Didn’t happen in this scene happened lots of other times.

And again, whoever wrote this scene made up a scene, but still knew what they were talking about. So again, that kind of uncanny Valley right there. The other thing in that scene, he uses his cigar as a political prop. And again, he would often use cigars as his way to brand himself. He would often carry cigars and make a big show out of pulling one out of his pocket, giving one to somebody, lighting one very demonstratively while he was thinking about what to say and things like that.

He does that on the train as well. So like just three things that like are 100 percent right in a scene that as a whole is 100 percent wrong. Again, it’s part of why I, as a biographer, love and hate this movie at the same time.

[00:52:19] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah, completely fictional scene. But if it did happen, it could have happened that way.

[00:52:24] Furman Daniel: Yeah. Interesting enough Churchill bragged about never taking the underground during his life. So it’s an odd thing. The other thing I’ll say, about Churchill and how he’s remembered today. And why he was important for kind of telling the British people they could win and keeping their spirits up.

He was excellent at visiting bomb damaged houses and visiting hospitals and military bases. During world war two, his style of leadership was a very personal, Oh, this area of London was hit very heavily last night by bombs. I’m going to get in my car and drive over there and talk to the bricklayers and talk to the, people that lost their house.

And I can’t rebuild their house actually was a bricklayer, but I can’t rebuild their house or at least not right now. Not right now, but I can tell him I care and I can tell him we will beat Hitler and keep a stiff upper lip. He did that. And that was somewhat unusual for politicians at the time and really important to again, keep the morale up and telling people they can win it, telling people that.

Yeah. Good times are ahead of them and to fight now. And I think that’s, it’s so obvious that it’s almost easy to lose. Yeah.

[00:53:42] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah. And that’s, that sort of thing is that’s the title of the movie darkest hour. When you’re going through that, that we’re all, we’re going through this together.

Like it, obviously things are not easy now, but that’s, that makes sense that would be a way that a politician like Churchill could help to bring everybody together and to build that moral support that’s needed. And he was

[00:54:04] Furman Daniel: also, it’s one of those things. It’s tempting to think of Churchill as a man of the people.

He was good with the people. He was not a man of the difference. Yeah. So he never cooked, he tried to cook an egg one time, for example. He never did laundry. He never made his bed. He, he was a privileged member of the British upper class. He had servants and people to do those things.

He was a wimp and a kind of a Physical way. He often was he had very soft skin, for example. So he, didn’t want to touch rough fabrics on his skin and stuff like that. He was not a a man of the people in that way. He was wealthy. He was privileged. He was all those things, but he could still at least pretend like he cared.

And I think that care was genuine. But it’s also very important to, to, he was not your poor boy done good type and then it wouldn’t even really

[00:55:01] Dan LeFebvre: pretend to be, yeah, but the movie ends in 1940 and that’s obviously not the end of Churchill’s story. So can you give us like a brief overview of Churchill’s life after the timeline of the movie?

I’m sure again, that could be its

[00:55:14] Furman Daniel: own whole thing. Yeah. That’s probably 10 different movies. So Churchill remains the British prime minister for the rest of the war in Europe. Survives a couple of no confidence votes during the war. So the movie actually picks up on that. His political position was weak survives a couple of no confidence votes during the war.

There’s an election right after the war in Europe is over while the, while Britain is still fighting Japan and the Pacific theater and Churchill actually loses that election. So the kind of the labor party actually wins a surprise victory. And it’s seen as a mandate actually against we’ve won the war in Europe, the crisis is over, we can actually get rid of Churchill and focus on other things that the labor parties actually promised us, like jobs, like wage, like healthcare, all the things.

That Churchill had put on pause to win the war in Europe. So he almost as soon as the war in Europe’s over he’s out of office as prime minister. He goes back into, to the opposition. He actually gets to be prime minister again in the 1950s, holds on a little bit too long.

He is age catch age and health problems catch up to him. But he paints, he travels, he. He continues to be a best selling author after the war, he wins the Nobel prize for literature. He gives a series of speeches like the famous Iron Curtain speech about the Cold War. And he solidifies this legacy as one of the greatest British politicians of all time.

He dies in 1965 at the age of 90. And again, has five lifetimes worth of stuff just in the kind of time after the movie, but yeah, quite a bit of stuff and it’s all pretty amazing.

[00:59:20] Dan LeFebvre: Wow. Throughout the movie, there were a lot of things. It made me question how things could have been different. Are you open to maybe doing some what if scenarios from the movie?

[00:59:30] Furman Daniel: They’re always dangerous as you never know, but yeah, I’m happy to do

[00:59:33] Dan LeFebvre: kind of the first what if that I had. According to the movie, as we talked about, it seems like Winston Churchill was not the first choice for prime minister after Chamberlain.

So what do you think, what if Churchill was not appointed prime minister in May of 1940? How would that have affected The evacuation at Dunkirk and really the rest of the war.

[00:59:51] Furman Daniel: So Dunkirk really is the key. I think if you had a different politician that is suddenly presented with the fact that the 300, 000 or so soldiers that they thought were going to get killed or captured are suddenly saved and delivered back to Britain.

I think that would strengthen the resolve of a lot of politicians. So it’s entirely possible that somebody else would have understood that deliverance at Dunkirk. Gave the British an opportunity to continue fighting that they might not but again it’s one of those, what ifs that’s really hard to know there definitely was a group of politicians that saw continued resistance as unlikely to, to succeed and ultimately self destructive and thought even though they didn’t particularly care for the Nazis thought a negotiated settlement that would allow them to keep it.

their empire, keep their kind of sovereignty was the right thing to do. So it’s impossible to know was a group of people that would have gladly cut a deal with the Nazis or reluctantly cut a deal with the Nazis, depending on which person. But it’s hard to know, but Churchill looks good in retrospect because he made that tough call.

We’re going to keep fighting. And ultimately it was borne out by history. Yeah. Oh,

[01:01:04] Dan LeFebvre: you alluded to my next what if, and that is. The peace element, because in the movie, yeah, we, it seems like there are people who want to negotiate a peace with Germany, but Churchill seems to be the one that’s standing strong.

He’s never going to have peace with Hitler. How do you, what do you think would have changed? What if, Britain had negotiated peace with Germany in 1940

[01:01:27] Furman Daniel: if they had I think the world is much worse than it is today I think you have a much more complete Eradication of Jews in Europe. You have a much worse persecution of a whole bunch of other groups gypsies LGBTQ

All those types of groups get murdered in a much more complete and systematic way. I think Germany is much more likely to win its war against the Soviet Union without British and American help. I think Britain without Britain involved, America stays out of the war in Europe. And the idea of a, an invasion of France or somewhere else in Europe to liberate Europe is almost unthinkable.

So it’s a much kind of worse hypothetical future. And, it’s worth remembering. If Churchill or somebody hadn’t decided to keep fighting that’s what you’re looking at. And, it’s a very sad, dark future if Britain folds or decides to negotiate. It’s not

[01:02:41] Dan LeFebvre: darkest hour anymore.

It’s the darkest feature. It seems.

[01:02:44] Furman Daniel: Yeah, it’s it. It’s almost impossible to imagine good things coming out of that. Maybe

[01:02:51] Dan LeFebvre: you already answered my last what if when we were talking about the invasion, but in the movie with the. implication of the impression of, that’s possible that the Germans could invade.

What if they had invaded? Do you think Britain would have been able to repel and then damage German forces or would German eventually have been able to succeed? How do you think that would have changed if Germany had invaded Britain.

[01:03:21] Furman Daniel: I kind of side with Churchill here that if Germany would have tried an invasion, at least in the kind of early period, they would almost certainly lost.

And that would have actually accelerated their own demise. And I think ultimately the Germans decide not to invade because they realize they probably can’t win. To fight the question a little bit, I think an invade, Once the army is saved and relocated to great Britain, they have a large enough force to defend their island from any kind of likely invasion.

It’s also just important to remember Germany was a land power, not a sea power and just physically getting enough people and enough stuff across the English channel. Very hard to do. to Go back to the previous question, what you get is for a while, a standoff.

Right? Britain is alone, and they’re still fighting. Germany is master of Europe, and there’s this kind of uncomfortable standoff for quite some time there. It would have been much worse if, Britain’s off, off the table, but yeah.

[01:04:21] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah. Fortunately those are what if scenarios and not what actually happened.

You mentioned earlier Churchill’s wife, Clementine, and throughout the movie we see her of course, but the. It focuses on Churchill throughout the movie, but we do see Clementine as well as another woman, Elizabeth Layton, who is his secretary. She doesn’t really stand up to him the way that Clementine does, but she’s working with him all hours of the night, anytime typing telegram speeches that he dictates to her.

How well do you think the movie does showing these two women as a part of Churchill’s life?

[01:04:54] Furman Daniel: I think it does a fantastic job with Clementine. And down to just little tiny details. For example, she tells them one scene is so quick. You can miss it. She says, go to bed, pig. Their pet name for each other were pig.

so She could tell the prime minister of England go to bed pig. And that’s how much they loved and trusted each other. It also shows her struggling to pay the bills. Very true. During this period, during pretty much their entire married life right up to the end of World War II, they were right near the edge of bankruptcy.

Churchill made an enormous amount of money and very quickly, and would spend an enormous amount of money just as quick. So they’re always on this kind of edge of bankruptcy, and I think it does a good job of briefly highlighting that. Also the scene where they’re toasting each other with champagne.

There’s the scene where Clementine says, Hey, we’ve put up with a lot to you better be a good prime minister. I think that’s, I don’t know if that exact thing happened, but in terms of showing their relationship and showing the kind of tough love that she had for him and the kind of unflinching support she had for him and just intimate understanding they had of each other.

I think it does a really good job on that on the character of Miss Layton, the typist. A lot of stuff wrong with that. So there was a historical Miss Layton. And she was a typist for Winston Churchill. Churchill did treat her very rudely at various times. And that’s about where the right things in the movie in it.

so She didn’t become Churchill’s typist till the spring of 1941, almost a year after the movie. She did not have a brother that was killed in the Dunkirk or Calais fighting. She didn’t help him type any of these speeches like that. She was one of several personal typists. It wasn’t like she was his only one, the way it’s suggested in the movie.

Lots of things wrong with that. If you want her side of the story, she wrote a pretty readable memoir that came out in the 1950s. Which is a good combination of kind of. Churchill was a pain in the butt, but I loved him, showed some of his less flattering things and actually talked quite a bit about how he was often rude and talks about the thing about the double spacing on the typing and how it was difficult to it.

Sometimes hear various words when he was talking with a cigar in his mouth or talking rapidly the difficulty of that job. She’s very quick to highlight, but at the same time she talks about, but I love this man unconditionally and he was, the savior of our country. So yes, there was a person like that.

Yes, she was his typist. Yes, they had problems. Yes, the double space thing, lots of little small details. Unfortunately, the timelines a year off and then the plot device of I’m worried about my brother. Never happened. heR family was actually in Canada. sO they, they weren’t in danger at all. So again, one of these things where it’s in that uncanny valley, cause there’s enough truth and enough things that are, wow, that’s a really cool detail.

The double spacing on the page. Oh wow. But it’s a year off, so it’s again, one of these as a biographer, as a historian, it’s really hard to give it a good grade. Even though it gets a lot of things amazingly right,

[01:08:01] Dan LeFebvre: a lot of those little details, things like that. I think it helps to humanize Churchill as a person throughout the movie, like him caring about Elizabeth Layton’s brother in, in that even if it didn’t

[01:08:15] Furman Daniel: actually happen.

Yeah. The same thing about the V for victory and her kind of saying, you know what that means. It means that’s a year off as well. So the V for Victory didn’t come until 1941. ChUrchill did actually on occasion give it the wrong way, which is the British equivalent of the middle finger in America.

And there were pictures of him giving it the wrong way. And he did have to have it explained to him like, Hey, you know that’s a vulgar gesture. But it didn’t happen in this tight timeline. It was actually about a year later. And it’s unclear whether Miss Layton or who exactly said, Hey, you’re doing that wrong.

Again, it’s one of those, it’s so close yet so far away to being right. And I actually think it’s unnecessary for the film to, to do some of those things. Since

[01:09:02] Dan LeFebvre: you mentioned some of the little details that the movie got right. Were there any of the other little details that the movie got wrong?

[01:09:08] Furman Daniel: I’ll give you two, one big, one small. The biggest thing the movie gets wrong. Is the climactic speech that we will fight on the beaches speech, they actually get the time, they say they have that wonderful plot device of the dates rotating up and they say that it’s on May 28th. That actual speech was on June 4th and it’s not just a, Oh, they were off by a couple of days.

The timeline there is really important because by June 4th the evacuation at Dunkirk had been completed and Churchill could go give that speech knowing that the kind of horror of the British army had been saved and they could continue fighting and they couldn’t be. The soldiers couldn’t be used as prisoners in a possible deal with the Nazis.

He was in a much stronger position to make that speech after those soldiers were saved. And the movie kind of makes it seem like the, because it’s on the 28th of May, the invasion the evacuation is still going. We don’t know what will happen. And Churchill then. Pulls from the strength of the people on the train and does that didn’t pull from the people on the train didn’t do it while the evacuation was going was in a much kind of different position dramatically.

It makes more sense to do it on the 28th when he doesn’t know that because it’s, it seems like much more of a courageous stance by Churchill, but that’s one of the biggest things right there. One minor thing is aviation people like to be aviation people, but the plane that he takes when he does the trip to France is completely wrong.

He flew on a de Havilland Flamingo in real life, which was a a rare aircraft even then was unsafe aircraft even then. But when he flew over to France, he did it on a completely different plane. The plane that showed is actually an American aircraft C 47 which he did fly on those at various points during his career, various points during World War II.

But in his trips to France, it was very clear that he flew on a de Havilland Flamingo. There’s lots of little things like that where it’s just anachronistic or wrong. And you might not notice because it is a World War II plane. It looks really good on film. It’s dramatically backlit in some of the scenes.

It’s also just wrong. And it’s one of those things that it didn’t have to be wrong because you could have made that change pretty easily. Just one big and one small example that hadn’t spoken up before.

[01:11:44] Dan LeFebvre: yEah. Those are definitely, especially the speech. With the date, because a date is something that’s presented on screen.

That’s the easiest thing to change. I’m wondering, just speculating here, I have no idea, but the filmmakers were trying to make sure the entire movie happens within the same month. Since it starts in May, having it also be in May near the end, that kind of thing. Yeah,

[01:12:10] Furman Daniel: it could be just that simple.

Or it could be the dramatic device of We want this to be really one right, right on top of each other. We still want to have that dramatic tension about, we don’t know that the Dunkirk evacuation will be successful, but yeah the use of the dates that explicitly just drives you crazy if you actually knew what to look for.

And again what I worry as a professor is that somebody will see that date. And then have it in their mind or worse yet in their paper or their retelling of the historical tale of it happened on the state. Actually, no it didn’t, but very frustrating.

[01:12:47] Dan LeFebvre: Always double check the movies, they’re not always accurate.

[01:12:50] Furman Daniel: Yeah, watch Dan’s podcast.

[01:12:54] Dan LeFebvre: Read your book, there you go. How old do you think the movie did with just Gary Oldman portraying Winston Churchill?

[01:13:03] Furman Daniel: I think that’s one of if the film is going to be remembered for anything, it will be for Gary Oldman’s performance. It is amazing. And he apparently did over a year and a half of study for that character and lots of vocal coaching and things like that.

And he deserves, in my opinion, I’m not on the Academy, but he absolutely deserves Thank you. The best actor award that he won. I believe the other word that it won was makeup. And I think again, the prosthetics on his face, the. Attention to detail on some of that stuff is absolutely amazing.

And really in that moment, he is Winston Churchill. And I think he does a very good job on even very little kind of things on the way he would pronounce certain words. The way he would slur the word Nazis, right? You and I would say it Nazi. He would say Nazis. aNd very subtle things like that.

That again, if you don’t know what to look for, it just sounds like a odd British accent. But boy, that’s attention to detail on like vocal coaching of how you pronounce the like second syllable in Nazis. Really good. And he deserves all the kind of accolades he got. For that.

[01:14:17] Dan LeFebvre: Wow. Wow. Yeah. That’s good to hear.

He’s one of my favorite actors. He just transformed. It seems like he transformed himself in each role. So when I saw this movie, I was like, wow, it doesn’t look like Harry Holden. It does, but it doesn’t at the same time. They did a really good job transforming. I

[01:14:30] Furman Daniel: thought it’s amazing.

[01:14:32] Dan LeFebvre: Yeah.

Thank you so much for coming on the chat about darkest hour. I know we’ve talked a lot about Winston Churchill today, but as we’ve talked about too, he’s the kind of person has so many stories from his life beyond what we saw in the movie. And some of those stories you talked about in your forthcoming book, Mud, Blood and Oil Paint, the remarkable year that made Winston Churchill.

Can you give a sneak peek at your new book?

[01:14:52] Furman Daniel: So the book that’ll be coming out in 2024. Blood mud oil paint. So it looks at a one year period of Churchill’s life from the spring of 1915 to the spring of 1916. It starts when he was the head of the British admiralty during World War I, and actually dreams up this attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula that, that’s mentioned again and again as a, as one of his greatest failures during the Darkest Hour movie.

It starts with the failure of that campaign. And Winston Churchill actually losing his job as head of the British Admiralty during World War One. It then is a tale of redemption. So the blood of failure at Gallipoli two parts to his redemption. One is he goes and gives up his job as First Lord of the Admiralty and goes and fights in the front lines of World War One.

In Belgium and at great personal risks to himself actually is in the trenches fighting in world war one. And it’s this redemptive thing of I failed, but at least I am not a coward. And I am putting my money where my mouth is that we should fight and sacrifice and beat the Germans in world war one.

So he goes and does that during this year. He also. By accident discovers painting and painting becomes his hobby for the remainder of his life and it’s his way of when he’s stressed out, when he’s tired, he needs time to recharge the batteries. He goes and paints, so it’s a two part redemption.

One is I’m going to show I’m a tough guy and in the public mind I can go fight and one is I’m going to cultivate a, a. Creative kind of artistic softer part of my personality in my private moments. So it’s blood, mud, and oil paint. It looks at this one year period of his life where he fails spectacularly.

Fights in the trenches and finds a hobby that he will continue the rest of his life I’ll make

[01:16:40] Dan LeFebvre: sure to add a link to that in the show notes for this episode Thank you again so much for your time.

[01:16:44] Furman Daniel: Yeah. Thank you very much, Dan It’s always fun to be on the show



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