Darkest hour is a thrilling companion piece to the movie of the same name. In early May 1940, Winston Churchill was an unlikely figure to be asked to become Prime Minister by King George VI. Derided as a turncoat by his fellow Conservatives for his former membership in the Liberal Party, and pegged as an imperialist by his Labour Party foes, Churchill was a compromise choice to head up a fragile coalition government during wartime. Churchill’s previous failure as a military leader during the First World War was overlooked because he had by far the most wartime experience of any senior government official.
From the beginning of his tenure as Prime Minister, Churchill had to fend off the entreaties of the Conservative pro-appeasement members of his Wartime Cabinet. Lord Halifax and the former Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, longed to make peace with Hitler and Mussolini while the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were falling under Nazi domination. Churchill countered by making the first of his great Parliamentary speeches as Prime Minister: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French Army valiantly tried to hold off the German advances.
By late May 1940, the allied cause looked dire. France was on the verge of military surrender to the Germans. Four hundred thousand British soldiers were trapped on the beaches of France, and all of Western Europe would be under Nazi domination if the soldiers could not be evacuated. Every private sailing vessel on the East Coast of England was summoned for the rescue effort in Dunkirk. By a stroke of good luck, poor air visibility prevented the German Luftwaffe from massacring the BEF, and the vast majority of British soldiers were able to escape to their home country without injury, in a week's time.
Right after the Dunkirk evacuation, Churchill made the second great speech of his tenure in Parliament. He moved the British nation, during its gravest periods, with his oratory, when the British fighting spirit barely held off the forces of appeasement: “Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen into the grip of the Gestapo … we shall not flag and fail … We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets; we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Darkest hour is a compelling narrative of how Winston Churchill achieved greatness during the Second World War because of his steadfast opposition to Nazi aggression.