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How film can be useful as an educational tool for both students and teachers

By OPINION Stephen Munday

CAM Trust CEO Stephen Munday
CAM Trust CEO Stephen Munday

The Darkest Hour gives us a chance to reflect and learn.

It is interesting that cinema remains popular in our digital, internet world populated by vast numbers of personal devices. We can watch what we want, pretty much where we want at whatever time we want. Yet we choose to pay and to make the effort to go to cinemas. Perhaps watching the film Darkest Hour at the cinema helps to explain some of this.

The film has proved to be very popular with cinema goers. In many cinemas around the country, it is reported that the film has been greeted with a spontaneous round of applause: not something that might ever happen watching something on a personal device.

I have no stakes whatsoever in this film but will readily say that I found it a riveting watch recently when seeing it in a packed Cambridge cinema. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill was particularly impressive.

So what might I reflect on this film and its interest from the perspective of a school leader? One thing for sure must relate to history. This film is a good illustration of how interesting, captivating and important it is knowing history. History, well presented and well taught, is a wonderful subject that can and should interest every one of us.

A crucial job of schools is to engender a genuine enthusiasm for knowing and understanding our history. If we don’t do this then we are creating a very dangerous society. A society that does not know its history is likely to be in mortal danger.

The period covered by Darkest Hour is a very good example of this. For older members of the audience watching, the film will have stirred powerful memories. For younger people, then no such memories would exist.

How much more important, then, that schools ensure young people know this history well.

For me, it is a crucial reason why things such as Remembrance Day need to be embraced and used powerfully by schools ‘lest we forget’.

The other really interesting thing about the film is the picture of leadership that it gives. In many ways, Churchill was hardly a picture of a perfect leader. He was rude and irritable.

There were clearly occasions when his decision-making could be questioned.

More broadly, it seems to be agreed that he was not a great leader in times of peace. And yet he provided crucial leadership when it was needed most in our country’s Darkest Hour.

He seemed to understand the way that British people thought and felt about the developing war better than many others in the political elite at the time. He could, and did, give rousing speeches that spoke to the heart more than to the head. He was prepared to be resolute even when reality seemed to suggest that such resolution was ill-founded.

In the end, these were all crucial aspects to the required war effort (as well as a range of other factors that somehow turned the course of the war).

For anyone involved in leadership, certainly including school leadership, these are points for reflection. How we deal with crises (such things are known in education!) is a pretty good test of leadership.

So, Darkest Hour is a good opportunity to reflect and learn. From an educationalist’s perspective, that has to be a good thing.


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