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319: This Week: Darkest Hour, The New World, The Other Boleyn Girl

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: Darkest Hour, The New World, and The Other Boleyn Girl.

Events from This Week in History


Birthdays from This Week in History


Historical Movie Releasing This Week

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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.

May 13, 1940. London, England.

Two doors open to show a large room filled with people, most of them seated. The two men who opened the doors are walking in front of the camera as it follows them into the room. There are a few lights in the room, but mostly we can see light streaming from a window somewhere off the camera’s frame.

There are two levels visible in the room, with a gallery of seats in the balcony overlooking a large, open area below. Also on the ground level are plenty of other seats on either side of the open space where the two men are walking into the room. It doesn’t look like there’s an empty seat, and everyone in the room are wearing dark clothes. Suits for the men and dark dresses for the ladies, although to be honest I only saw one woman in the entire room filled with what has to be hundreds of people.

As the men enter the room, the last few people are taking their seats as others are talking amongst themselves. There’s no specific words we can hear, but these little side conversations going on contribute to an overall sound of murmuring. A bell can be heard tolling in the background.

The camera cuts to one of the men in the audience. With a serious look on his face as he looks at the ground floor, he takes a seat in the balcony above.

Down below, Winston Churchill is one of the men sitting. He takes out a watch from his pocket, glances at it, then puts it back. He’s played by Gary Oldman in the movie.

In another camera cut to a couple men in the gallery above, one turns to the man sitting next to him and softly says he should look at Chamberlain’s handkerchief. The camera moves to an overhead view of a white-haired man below who is taking out his handkerchief and setting it on his knee. This must be Chamberlain.

The man talking says if Chamberlain waves his handkerchief at the end of Churchill’s speech, that’s our signal to show approval. If he doesn’t, we keep quiet. Without saying anything, the other man nods slightly.

Then, down below, the Prime Minister is announced.

Winston Churchill gets up from his seat and stands at a table with what looks like a decorated wooden trunk or podium of some sort. Churchill places a single piece of paper on the wood in front of him and looks up to the people in the room.

The scene cuts to the serious-looking man in the balcony above. He looks behind him as an older gentleman taps his shoulder. The older man says, “Here we go,” and they both smile as if they’re not a fan of what’s about to happen.

The camera circles from an overhead angle as Gary Oldman’s version of Winston Churchill begins to address the room: “Mr. Speaker, on Friday evening last I received His Majesty’s commission to form a new administration…”

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Darkest Hour

That is how the 2017 movie called Darkest Hour shows an event that happened this week in history when Winston Churchill gave his first speech to the House of Commons as the new Prime Minister of Great Britain. Today, we know it as the “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” speech.

The movie is correct to mention the commission last Friday. That was when King George VI appointed Churchill to be the Prime Minister to replace Neville Chamberlain. That’s the guy we also hear mentioned in the movie with the handkerchief.

Before we get to that, though, the reason I didn’t continue with the speech from the movie is because instead of reading the speech myself, I thought perhaps you’d like to hear the actual speech from the real Winston Churchill.

So here is the speech from the movie:

“On Friday evening last I received His Majesty’s commission to form a new Administration. It is the evident wish and will of Parliament and the nation that this should be conceived on the broadest possible basis and that it should include all parties, both those who supported the late Government and also the parties of the Opposition. I have completed the most important part of this task. A War Cabinet has been formed of five Members, representing, with the Opposition Liberals, the unity of the nation. The three party Leaders have agreed to serve, either in the War Cabinet or in high executive office. The three Fighting Services have been filled. It was necessary that this should be done in one single day, on account of the extreme urgency and rigour of events. A number of other positions, key positions, were filled yesterday, and I am submitting a further list to His Majesty to-night. I hope to complete the appointment of the principal Ministers during to-morrow. The appointment of the other Ministers usually takes a little longer, but I trust that, when Parliament meets again, this part of my task will be completed, and that the administration will be complete in all respects.

I considered it in the public interest to suggest that the House should be summoned to meet today. Mr. Speaker agreed, and took the necessary steps, in accordance with the powers conferred upon him by the Resolution of the House. At the end of the proceedings today, the Adjournment of the House will be proposed until Tuesday, 21st May, with, of course, provision for earlier meeting, if need be. The business to be considered during that week will be notified to Members at the earliest opportunity. I now invite the House, by the Motion which stands in my name, to record its approval of the steps taken and to declare its confidence in the new Government.

To form an Administration of this scale and complexity is a serious undertaking in itself, but it must be remembered that we are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history, that we are in action at many other points in Norway and in Holland, that we have to be prepared in the Mediterranean, that the air battle is continuous and that many preparations, such as have been indicated by my hon. Friend below the Gangway, have to be made here at home. In this crisis I hope I may be pardoned if I do not address the House at any length today. I hope that any of my friends and colleagues, or former colleagues, who are affected by the political reconstruction, will make allowance, all allowance, for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act. I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, “come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

Going back to the movie’s plot points, do you remember the mention of Chamberlain’s handkerchief? If he waves the handkerchief at the end of the speech, the men listening say they’re supposed to show support. If not, they’ll be quiet.

Spoiler alert, at the end of Churchill’s speech in the movie, Chamberlain did not wave his handkerchief.

But, that’s not necessarily true…not just that Chamberlain didn’t wave his handkerchief, but the whole handkerchief thing at all.

Let me play you a clip from my chat with Churchill biographer Furman Daniel about this scene from the movie. This comes from episode #299 of Based on a True Story:

[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.

If you want to watch the event from this week in history as it’s shown in the movie, check out the 2017 movie Darkest Hour and Churchill’s speech starts at about 23 minutes into the movie.

Once you’ve seen it and want to find out how much of the whole thing happened, check out episode #299 of Based on a True Story to hear the rest of my conversation with Furman Daniel about the historical accuracy of the movie.

May 14, 1607. Virginia.

We’re on a river as rain drops gently splash into the water. The banks of the river on either side of us are filled with deep green grasses. An even deeper green row of trees can be seen along the horizon, leading up to a stormy sky that still has hints of blue in it.

A couple birds fly into the camera’s view on the left side for a moment as our view glides along the river.

Now the camera cuts to show a man walking among a field of grass. It doesn’t seem to be raining anymore, but the sky is still a cloudy white with the slightest hint of blue. We also can’t see the river anymore, but the tall grass looks similar to what we saw on the riverbanks a moment ago. There are tall trees on either side of the grassy field.

With shoulder-length brown hair and a full beard, we can recognize the man as Colin Farrell’s character, John Smith.

Another camera cut shows Farrell’s version of Smith walking among the woods now. The sound of insects buzzing and chirping birds make for a peaceful walk under the green canopy of trees. As Smith walks, the camera shows images of the sun peeking through the tree leaves to cast off lens flares on screen.

Smith looks up at the greenery around him. Other than the noise of the bugs and birds, there is silence.

It’s calm. Tranquil.

Just then, the movie cuts away from Smith’s walk to some other men. On the left side of the frame we can see seven men in a small, wooden boat along the edge of a large body of water. It looks like a river because we can see green trees in the distance, but this river is a lot bigger than the one we saw at the opening of the segment.

Other than the seven men in the boat, there are two standing in the waste-deep water next to it. They’re reaching into the water with their hands as if they’re fishing for something. A little closer to the camera in the middle of the frame are three other men. The water is only ankle deep where they’re at along the bank of the river, but each of the three men are bent over with their hands in the water. They, too, are looking for something in the water.

The focus of this shot, though, is the one man who is walking toward the camera. From our point of view, we’re looking over the shoulder of a man along the right edge of the frame. The man walking towards the camera is addressing the man whose shoulder we’re looking over.

The man addresses him as Captain Newport, and showing something he has in his hand he says they’ve found oysters.

He goes on to say the oysters are as thick as stones, holding one out to the Captain in the foreground. And there’s fish everywhere, he continues to say, they’re flapping against our legs. We’re going to live like kings!

That must be what everyone in the river is looking for: Oysters and fish.

In the next shot we can see Captain Newport’s face. He’s played by Christopher Plummer in the movie. A bunch of men are behind him carrying tools or weapons as they watch the captain speak.

Facing the camera, Newport says he’s weary of looking further after all their months at sea. This place will serve. There’s deep water to the shore, we can see up and down river so our enemies won’t have any surprise advantage.

We can see shots of the men carrying cargo off the ships in the river and onto land. The movie shows an English flag they’ve set up, suggesting these must be Englishmen. Axes start cutting trees. The noise catches the attention of the indigenous people, and we see some of them watching from the tall grass as the Englishmen start putting up a tall, wooden fence made from nearby trees.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The New World

That comes a movie released in 2005 called The New World, and the event it’s showing us is when the first permanent English settlement in the Americas was established. That happened this week in history on May 14th, 1607. The settlement was called Jamestown after King James I of England, and today it still holds that name. It’s just in the state of Virginia in the United States now.

And the event I just described is a good example of how movies have facts from history that did happen and then fill it in with fiction to tell the story.

For example, did John Smith walk in the silence of the woods as other Englishmen started cutting down the trees to build Jamestown?


But it probably didn’t happen exactly like we see in the movie because, well, that’s just too specific and we don’t know those kind of specifics from something that happened in the year 1607.

So, what are the facts?

In this case, basically that the Englishmen from three ships decided on the location and started building a new fort there. It didn’t quite happen as fast as we see in the movie. For example, we see Christopher Plummer’s version of Captain Newport tell his men that he’s weary of traveling further and this is a good location. Then, they start building.

And while that did happen, in the true story they started building the day after Captain Newport decided on the location.

Take one point away from the movie’s historical accuracy. Perhaps that’s nitpicking, but it’s an example of how the movie speeds up the timeline.

So, let’s dig deeper into the true story.

I didn’t talk about this in the segment, but the movie does show the three ships in the river. I didn’t talk about it because that didn’t happen this week in history. Those three ships actually reached the Virginia coast in late April of 1607. And it is true that Captain Newport was the name of the man in charge of the expedition.

Ironically, his first name was Christopher just like Christopher Plummer who played him in the movie. Maybe we should give that point back to the movie’s historical accuracy. [haha]

Something else the movie got right was when it shows Captain Christopher Newport telling his men the location for Jamestown is a good one due to the deep water and being able to see up and down the river. It’s a good defensive position for a fort, and those were exactly the reasons why they picked the location.

That decision came on May 13th, and on May 14th, the rest of the people came off the ship and the work began to establish the colony.

And while the movie goes on to show the happenings of the days and months after this week in history, it’s also correct to show the English colony was in the middle of Algonquian Indians led by a man named named Powhatan. His daughter, Pocahantas, gets into a relationship with John Smith–but that’s a story for another day.

As a side note, if you want that day to be today, you can hop way back to episode #27 of Based on a True Story when we covered Disney’s animated Pocahontas movie.

Queue it up to listen to as soon as this episode is done.

If you want to watch the sequence I described in this episode, though, look for the 2005 film directed by Terrence Malick called The New World. We started our segment right around the beginning of the movie, just eight minutes in.


May 19, 1536. London, England.

We’re going under archways and there are tall, stone walls on either side of us. Walking down stone stairs behind two uniformed guards are three women. One in the middle, two on either side behind her.

They walk to a courtyard where a large crowd is gathered. Despite its size, no one in the crowd is making any noise. It’s quiet as the guards lead the three women up a wooden staircase across from the stairs they just descended.

One of the women, Natalie Portman’s version of Anne Boleyn, stands before the crowd and speaks. She says she submits to the law. As for her offenses, God knows them and she beseeches God and Jesus to have mercy on her soul.

In the crowd watching is Anne’s sister, Mary. She’s played by Scarlett Johansson. A couple other guards walk over to Mary and hand her a piece of paper. Anne notices this and gasps slightly—she’s expecting this to be a pardon from the king or something that stops what is going to happen.

Mary unfolds the note and reads it.

Tears fill her eyes as she realizes there is no pardon contained within. She looks up at Anne, who immediately seems to know what her sister does: Nothing will stop this.

Anne cries and takes off her hood, cloak, and necklace.

The executioner places his hand on her shoulder, commanding her to her knees. She continues crying as the sword is placed on her neck. In a brisk movement, he pulls the sword back and the camera cuts to Mary as she winces from the noise of the slashing sword followed by a thud.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Other Boleyn Girl

That sequence comes from the 2008 movie called The Other Boleyn Girl and it’s depicting the execution of Anne Boleyn, which took place this week in history on May 19th, 1536.

She was the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, who annulled the marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, whom he had been married to for over 20 years. She was unable to have a son—at least not one that survived. She did have three sons in their marriage, but they all died through miscarriage, stillbirth and one through some unknown reason we don’t really know.

This didn’t make Henry happy, who started becoming enamored with the idea that the Bible was telling him if he were to marry his brother’s wife, she’d be childless. And Catherine was married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, first. But, Arthur died a year later and so Catherine was betrothed to Henry. Things seemed to be okay for a couple decades until Henry started to pressure the whole idea of having an heir.

We know Henry wasn’t faithful to Catherine at least once as he had one son with one of her ladies-in-waiting. That’s not a legitimate heir, though, and soon King Henry VIII was infatuated with another of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn.

Oh, and we also know Anne’s sister that we see in the movie, Mary, was also one of Henry’s mistresses.

The Catholic Church refused to allow the king to divorce Catherine because there was no cause and divorce went against God’s will according to the Pope. When Anne got pregnant by Henry, he quickly married her in a secret ceremony anyway so the child would be a legitimate heir.

When Catherine refused to divorce him so he could acknowledge his marriage to Anne, Henry went on to instead divorced the whole of England from the Catholic Church to establish the Church of England with himself as the head of the Church.

As a little side note, this ushered in what we now know as the Reformation and a conflict between Catholics and Protestants that’d mean countless killed on either side as a result.

On May 23rd, 1533, Henry was able to get his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled—about five months after he married Anne Boleyn.

That marriage didn’t go so well, either, as Anne also didn’t give Henry the male heir he wanted. So, Henry charged Anne with conspiracy against the king, witchcraft, adultery, and even incest with her brother George.

With that historical context in frame, it’s probably not too big of a surprise that the movie is correct to show King Henry VIII did not grant a stay of execution. After all, he was the one who orchestrated it to begin with.

The movie was also correct to show her execution being done by sword instead of the traditional axe.

Oh, and that child Anne Boleyn had that sparked Henry’s marriage to her? That would end up being the only of Anne’s children to survive childhood. It was a daughter, Elizabeth. After Henry VIII died without a male heir, his half-brother became King Edward VI until he died and she became Queen Elizabeth I in 1558.

As an extra bit of historical trivia for you, exactly 32 years after Elizabeth’s mother was executed, Queen Elizabeth I arrested her own sister, the woman history remembers as Mary, Queen of Scots, in a move that would ultimately end in Elizabeth solving her own political problems through by executing a relative.

If you want to learn more about Anne Boleyn this week, check out the 2008 movie The Other Boleyn Girl. The execution takes place at the end at about an hour and 45 minutes into the movie.

Once you do that, we covered the historical accuracy of The Other Boleyn Girl back on episode #92 of Based on a True Story.



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