Review: ‘Darkest Hour’
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill; Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill; Lily James as Elizabeth Layton; Stephen Dillane as Edward Wood; Ronald Pickup as Neville Chamberlain; Ben Mendelsohn as George VI.
Plot: As an invasion by Germany seems increasingly likely, the British Conservative Party is forced to support a controversial and tenacious leader to keep the opposition at bay.
The film begins in May 1940. Belgium and France are rapidly succumbing to Germany’s troops, and Britain is poised to be Hitler’s next conquest. We begin in parliament within which white papers and handkerchiefs are being frantically waved about, almost as if in preparation for the coming invasion. In the eye of the storm sits Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, silent – as if in mourning. He has lost the confidence of the government, and as such, a new leader must take a stand. This, of course, is Winston Churchill.
Despite the setting, Darkest Hour does not feel like a hardcore war film, but rather a close examination on how individuals under extreme pressure can make history. The war is just a notation, its presence expected and understood but instead of dominating the film, it is used skillfully as a background. This film is an intense political drama, slow to develop but dripping suspense.
Gary Oldman is nearly unrecognisable as Churchill. He portrays Churchill with incredible depth and emotion, beginning the film a petulant old man and slowly but surely developing the character into a determined and vindicated leader who plucks his country from the throes of despair. What is perhaps the most striking of this depiction is how Oldman explores Churchill’s darkest moments – the moments in which he sits in heavy silence or alternatively rages under the stress of the seemingly impossible task he has undertaken. He captures Churchill’s peculiarities with perfection, even down to speech patterns and body language. Indeed, other great performances in the film are almost overshadowed by Oldman’s outstanding take on Churchill.
The second-best thing about this film is how effortlessly the producers have blended screen moments with historical accuracies. Oldman makes Churchill’s famous speeches come alive, providing a glimpse into what it must have been like to be present those days the speeches were first delivered. Huge block letters that take up the whole screen mark the ticking days, and let us know how time is passing, giving us a very real insight to the ticking clock of war. Churchill’s famous wit and sharp tongue provide moments of genuine hilarity in a series of dark meeting rooms and hazy cigarette smoke.
Perhaps paradoxically, the thing that bothered me the most in Darkest Hour was the historical inaccuracies. One scene in the subway was particularly irksome as it was crucial to the development of both the character and the story, despite it having never happened. However, considering the scale of successful integration of fact and timing present throughout the rest of the film, I think it perhaps a little unfair to dwell too much on any creative license taken. This is a great film, packed with intricate scenes and accomplished cinematic effects. The lighting and colours used in this film is done remarkable well, giving a very realistic look to each scene.
In all, this film is a slow but gratifying look into the rise of perhaps one of the most prominent men to live in modern times. It is definitely suited to an audience that enjoys historical dramas over action films, and as such may bore those not inclined to value the finer details of historical events and people. For those that do enjoy historical films however, this is a must see.
Score: 8 out of 10