The Darkest Hour

The Darkest Hour

There’s been a flurry of historical war films lately and more to come, I’m sure. It’s not surprising, given the various centenaries involving the Great War of 1914-18 and the knock-on remembrance of other major conflicts. As a general rule, I don’t do war movies. I’d much rather watch Maggie Smith in bustle and bodice than endure the blood, sweat and tears of the trenches. One exception was the cinematic tour de force, Dunkirk  – a masterpiece. Then came The Darkest Hour, a fictionalised account of the first few weeks of Winston Churchill’s premiership during the Second World War; France is finished, the Brits are trapped, the Americans are hedging their bets and Churchill must decide whether to parley with Hitler. The days don’t get any darker than that. We were drawn in by reports of Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston and his Churchillian prosthetic transformation.

I’ve liked Gary Oldman ever since he played Joe Orton, the controversial and irrepressibly gay sixties playwright, in the deliciously naughty but tragic biopic Prick Up Your Ears.  In The Darkest Hour, neither Gary nor the prosthetics disappoint – both are superb. And what of the film in general? It’s a witty script that doesn’t whitewash Churchill’s considerable flaws, ruthless streak or periods of mental paralysis. But it’s the performance that makes it. Expect a few gongs for Oldman and the clever people in the rubber department.

We also recently saw the latest Star Wars blockbuster – The Last Jedi. The critics loved it, the fans less so. I’m with the fans.

A Very British Olympics

A Very British Olympics

We Brits love to wallow in glorious failure. It’s almost a national fetish. We relish the underdog fighting against insurmountable odds – remember Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team (not to mention Dunkirk)? This time we had a runaway success on our hands and it crept up behind us like a batty boy in a back room, confounding the doubters and crowned with a bulging bag of bling. Blighty has been in a foul mood for years and, for a brief moment, people have something to smile about. For me, it was the Paralympics that defined the true spirit of the Games – from mad dash to Mad Max, fire to phoenix, high fliers to high wires, gold-play to Coldplay – the very best of humanity tainted only by the very worst of Channel 4 coverage. Keenly covered at home, not so keenly covered abroad, some of our friends across the seas should hang their heads in shame. The Americans televised only limited highlights (despite the presence of a large and impressive American Team) and my former foster home, Turkey, decided to screen a soccer match instead of the opening ceremony. Tonight saw a joyous and very British closing show received by a wall of noise. It was a triumph – a triumph made in Britain.

Photo: Ian Kington/AFP

Now that the big top has come down and the circus is leaving town for Brazil, what next? Will the park become a weedy white elephant like so many of the past? Will the colossal cost deepen the double dip as the bills drop on the mat? There’s a chance, a good chance, that the legacy will endure. The park itself is small and perfectly formed (a bit like me), the velodrome was going to be built anyway and the aquatics centre will replace the aging National Sports Centre pools at Crystal Palace. I used to train there when, for a short while before I discovered hormones, I was a promising young diver. It was a bugger to get to. As for the Olympic Stadium itself, it’s a great fit for big-ticket concerts by big-wig stars. It’s already booked for the 2017 World Athletic Championships and we may yet see Hammers’ fans screaming from the terraces. Transport links in that part of town have been completely transformed and the Olympic Village will provide quality affordable housing for one of the most deprived areas of the country. Remember the Millennium Dome (itself a 2012 venue)? Who would have thought back in 2001 that it would emerge as one of the most successful music venues in the world as the O2? Few facilities were specifically built for the Games and some were designed to be temporary. One or two may even get packed up and shipped off to Rio for 2016. Now, here’s a thought. Perhaps the IOC should commission IKEA to design the travelling flat pack games. Now where did I put that allen key?

See the best of the Games. You’ll have to click into You Tube to watch the video.

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