2017 was a big year for historical, period piece movies as the much anticipated film Darkest Hour was released. It follows the turbulent time at the beginning stages of World War II during Nazi Germany’s swift advance and conquest of much of Europe. Britain was left relatively isolated and with the decision to either make peace or continue to resist alone.
The film focuses on the newly elected prime minister, Winston Churchill (portrayed by Gary Oldman), as he attempts to convince the British Parliament to not sue for peace in spite of their current position in the war. We are shown the personal struggles Churchill goes through with his relationship with his wife and the heavy weight the war takes on his conscience as there was a very real threat of invasion and subjugation. As the film progresses, we are introduced to Elizabeth Layton (Lily Jordan) as Churchill’s new personal secretary who has the task of shadowing the prime minister and typing up the various letters to his allies in Parliament and his replies to various world leaders.
As the war rages on, Churchill continues to attempt to inspire the British public to courageously resist. His opponents in Parliament seek to oust him from power and elect a different Prime Minister to begin peace talks with Hitler. It soon becomes clear that, unless a miracle happens, the entire British expeditionary force in France will be destroyed as they are trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. To the surprise of all the troops trapped at Dunkirk, they are rescued by the British Navy and thousands of volunteer flotillas. As this happens Churchill gives his famous speech “We shall fight on the beaches,” which goes on to rally Parliament in his favor and unite the British public.
Darkest Hour is a perfect companion to Christopher Nolan landmark film Dunkirk. Gary Oldman has always been one of my all-time favorite actors, and in this role he truly shines and transitions flawlessly into the elder British statesmen. Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill carries the film the entire way through.
Gary Oldman won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for this role. The film was also nominated for Best Picture and won an additional award for Best Hair and Makeup for the transition of Gary Oldman into the role of Winston Churchill.
Darkest Hour is available at the Union University Library; it is rated PG-13 for some mild language.
Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.
July 30th, 1945
Sinking of the USS Indianapolis
Today marks the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. The ship was on a top secret mission to deliver parts that would be used to construct an armed and operational atomic bomb codenamed “Little Boy,” which was scheduled to be used on the city of Hiroshima and intended to force the Empire of Japan to surrender. The Indianapolis completed its mission to deliver the bomb’s components; however, on her return voyage, disaster struck as she was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. The vessel sank in a mere 12 minutes, with their frantic distress calls going unanswered.
Out of a crew of 1195 men, 300 went down immediately with the ship. The surviving crew were left stranded in the middle of the South Pacific for the next three and a half days. With many wounded, few life jackets, and fewer life boats, the surviving seamen endured unimaginable suffering. There was stifling heat during the day and hypothermic conditions at night. The crew also experienced unquenchable thirst that could lead to the congestion of delirium-inducing saltwater. The worst and most feared fate still awaited these desperate sailors: hundreds of sharks! After the third day the survivors were spotted by a friendly aircraft on patrol, and a rescue craft was sent to aid them, but the total number of those that survived out of the 900 men that went into the water was only 317.
This event would mark the single greatest loss of life by any U.S ship in the navy’s entire history. As of July 2019, there are only 12 remaining living survivors to this tragedy. So if this article finds you today, take a moment and say a prayer for those still living and for those who were lost in the horrors of World War II.
The Union University Library offers several books on this subject for those who would like to learn more:
This past Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a monumental military achievement that set the ground work for the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. I can think of no better film that epitomizes the heroic struggle of the D-Day Normandy Invasions than Saving Private Ryan. In 1998, director Steven Spielberg released this film to wide acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the carnage that was World War II. There have been many films that sought to establish themselves as gritty or iconic in their portrayal of the most famous American battle of the war. Other famous war epics like The Longest Day had an all-star cast; and while it is a fantastic and ambitions film for its time, its portrayal of the horror of war is very tame.
Spielberg, while obtaining many celebrated actors, also sought to instill a sense of realism with historical accuracy paramount. Spielberg implemented skilled visual and special effects to bring the bloody beaches of Normandy to life. Saving Private Ryan centers around Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks). As a member of the Army Rangers, Miller and his men successfully fight their way ashore onto Omaha Beach. After the battle is over, the film takes a shift to the war department back home in the United States. As casualty figures are amassed and letters sent to families to inform them of their loved one’s deaths, it is soon discovered that one particular family, the Ryan family, has lost four brothers within a few hours of each other and the fifth (private James Ryan) is missing. The General of the War Department realizes what a public relations nightmare this could be and how it could jeopardize national morale. As orders get passed down the chain of command, it falls to Captain Miller and his small squad to locate Private Ryan and bring him home. This is made even more difficult because Ryan is a paratrooper whose unit was dropped as part of the Airborne Offensive the night before D-Day and was wildly blown off their intended objectives.
Along the way, Miller’s squad continues to suffer casualties and lose close friends. They begin to question why locating Ryan is worth risking all their lives. As the film draws to its climax they succeed in finding Ryan, who stubbornly refuses to abandon his friends who were ordered to hold a bridge at all cost. The group decides to aid Ryan and his fellow paratroopers hold off the German attack aimed at the bridge. The climax of the film is extremely tense and humbling as the soldiers fight against impossible odds.
This is an immensely powerful film; it shows the true horrors of war. The cost of young men who are fathers, brothers, and sons is utterly heartbreaking. The humanity and camaraderie shared between soldiers is so clearly brought to life by Spielberg’s film. Saving Private Ryan was nominated for Best Picture and won for Best Director. It would go on to gross 480 million dollars. It is wildly considered one of the greatest World War II films of all time. In 2014 it was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Saving Private Ryan is available at the Union University Library.
*Please note it is rated R for intense violence and language throughout.