Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Neville Chamberlain’

Darkest Hour ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th February, 2018

Darkest HourJoe Wright’s somewhat fictionalised biopic of Winston Churchill (a tour de force by actor Gary Oldman, unrecognisable beneath remarkable prosthetic makeup that convincingly brings back to life Britain’s war-time bulldog) recounts the tense weeks of May 1940, when the Germans were sweeping west across continental Europe and the bulk of the British army was stranded on the French coast. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister who had declared Peace for Our Time after meeting Adolf Hitler in Munich two years earlier, was ousted but it was by no means inevitable that Winston Churchill would succeed him as Leader of the Conservative Party, as he had quite a lot of inconvenient political baggage, too, including several years as a defector to the Liberal Party and, more damningly, ownership of the disastrous Gallipoli landings in the First World War. In Anthony McCarten’s powerful screenplay, Chamberlain and the Foreign Secretary, Viscount Halifax, are pitted against Churchill as proponents of peace negotiations with Hitler, to be brokered by Mussolini. Churchill gambled to stand and fight instead, saved by the successful evacuation of most of the 300,000 men from the beach at Dunkirk and the power of his own rhetoric, which roused and united the nation as well as the House of Commons. But the key to the success of Darkest Hour is the delicate balance between the bluster and bullying of the politician Churchill with the self-doubt and vulnerability of the man that existed behind the facade. Winston’s three important relationships in the film are with his wife Clementine (convincingly played by Kristen Scott Thomas), King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) and his young secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) — all sensitively handled, at times with humour that pricks the tension of the dramatic times. Visually, the film is sumptuous, the atmosphere enhanced by Joe Wright’s characteristic tracking shots of Londoners going about their daily business. There is an almost dream-like sequence in an underground carriage when Churchill sounds out ordinary people as to whether they are ready to resist to the death. I found that jarred rather with the realism of most of the rest of the footage. But the evocation of determined national spirit will wow many cinema audiences during our own period of a different kind of political uncertainty. And Gary Oldman’s towering performance largely makes up for any historical shortcomings.

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1938 Hitler’s Gamble

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th August, 2009

1938The British historian Giles MacDonogh’s last acclaimed book After the Reich was an admirable study of the disruption and misery prevalent in continental Europe that followed the defeat of Nazi Germany. Few nations came out smelling of roses in their treatment of the hordes of refugees then, not to mention the misdmeanours of the victorious armies. So there is a pleasing reverse symmetry in the conception of Giles’ latest offering, 1938 Hitler’s Gamble (Constable, 20 pounds), which charts month by month the prelude to the Second World War while demonstrating just how shitty almost everyone was towards the Jews. Inevitably, the canvass becomes a little cluttered, as the tale has to embrace the Anschluss of Austria, and the betrayal and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia as well as the central theme of increasingly institutionalised anti-semitism. But the author is good at presenting telling details and poignant vignettes in sometimes journalistic prose that is vivid and effective. I winced at the description of Neville Chamberlain as Britain’s Head of State, but such occasional slips aside, this is a gripping and at times disturbing read. At least there are some genuine human souls in evidence, including British and American Quakers who were involved in organising the Kindertransporte evacuating German Jewish children to safety as well as good upper class Germans who realised early on just what a ghastly — and dangerous — little man Adolf Hitler was.

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Jeremy Thorpe Unveiled

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th July, 2009

Avril Vellacott and Jeremy Thorpe's bustThe great, the good and the sometimes naughty of the old Liberal Party were out en masse in the Attlee Suite of Portcullis House at Westminster this evening, for the unveiling of a portrait bust of former party leader Jeremy Thorpe, as well as a preview of the three latest (and final) acquisitions of busts of 20th century Prime Ministers intended for the Commons lobby: Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Andrew Bonar Law and Neville Chamberlain (the most stunning portrayal being that of Neville Chamberlain, apparently only on loan from Birmingham, but hey). The evening was introduced by Hugo Swire, MP, Chairman of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art. Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader — barely old enough to remember Jeremy’s halcyon days as a politician — gave an amusing and  nicely-balanced speech,  while his predecessors Ming Campbell, Charles Kennedy and David Steel brushed shoulders with various Grimonds and Bonham-Carters. The Thorpe bust will be displayed in the Grimond Room in Parliament.

John Bercow, the new Mr Speaker, was both gracious and genuinely enthusiastic in his lauding of JT as one of the political stars of the 1960s and 1970s. Mr Bercow unveiled the bust — a cast from an original by sculptor and Twickenham Rugby Club enthusiast, Avril Vellacott, which she made shortly before JT’s first marriage to Caroline Allpass (who was tragically killed in a car accident) and which still graces the Thorpe home in Orme Square — by pulling on one tassled cord while Jeremy, in a wheelchair, tugged gently on another. Jeremy, despite long years of crippling Parkinson’s disease, then astonished everyone by giving a 10-minute speech, via a lapel mike. He paid particular tribute to his second wife and loyal companion, Marion (who was sitting slightly tearfully in another wheelchair beside him) and declared firmly that he intended to campaign vigorously for the LibDems in the run-up to the forthcoming general election. Indomitable, or what?

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