DIR: Joe Wright • WRI: Anthony McCarten• PRO: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Douglas Urbanski • DOP: Bruno Delbonnel • ED: Valerio Bonelli • MUS: Dario Marianelli • DES: Sarah Greenwood • CAST: Lily james, Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn
Gary Oldman is almost unrecognisable in his portrayal of Winston Churchill in his first stint as Prime Minister during WWII. The film covers just a small number of days in May 1940, opening with the British Parliament in distress – Hitler has invaded Poland, and Czechoslovakia, and with the opposition having no more confidence in Neville Chamberlain a new Prime Minister must be appointed; one that will lead Britain through its darkest hour.
Our first sight of Churchill is of him in his bed, being introduced to his new personal secretary, Ms. Layton, played by Lily James. Our first impressions of him are unsurprising, giving that they are backed up by numerous portrayals of the wartime Prime Minister as: grumpy, bumbling and cantankerous.
This film tells the story of a man who is not supported by members of his own war cabinet, who have no faith in him (particularly Chamberlain and Lord Halifax), and who is not liked by his own King (at least initially). He faces war amongst his own ministers, and war from Germany, battling internal and external forces that seek to tear him down. The outlook for Churchill and Britain looks bleak, and the aura complements the mood of the film; the world of parliament, the underground bunker where the war cabinet meet, and the palace, all of them have a grey hue. Not only does this capture the essence of London, but the essence of a country, an Empire at war.
Oldman really embraces, and immerses himself into his role, as I said becoming almost unrecognisable, so much so that you really believe he is Churchill. He sounds like Churchill, capturing that mumble, while still ensuring that he encapsulates what makes Churchill one of the great speakers in history. Oldman, taking the real speeches, gives them fervour, emotion, power, calling to the patriotism of the British people and rallying them for battle.
But this film doesn’t just show one side of Churchill, as the man who led Britain through war, Darkest Hour shows the struggles that the Prime Minister underwent, it shows a side that is probably less well known or seen…his human side. Darkest Hour gives us a Churchill that is sarcastic and darkly humorous, showing us the wit behind the great orator, one who had a great love for Shakespearean prose. It also shows us the emotions underneath the surface, not just the anger that comes out due to the mounting pressure on him, but the sadness, the desperation of a man so alone amongst his peers, left to carry the decisions he makes like a weight. He is viewed as war-hungry and a drunk by members of Parliament, someone determined to continue warring with the enemy rather than consider the idea of peace talks.
The main issues with regards to WWII that this film concerns itself with is:
- Dunkirk and the seemingly impossible task of evacuating approximately 300,000 troops from the beach, and
- To enter into negotiations with Hitler or not by having Italy act as a mediator.
Now this film is very history heavy (however, like many filmic interpretations of history, not all of it is the truth), a lot of talk about surrendering, evacuating, negotiating, fighting and all the jargon that goes with war. Anyone who has an interest in Churchill, WWII, etc. will really enjoy this, as I did. This film certainly expects the audience to have a certain knowledge of WWII and what happened during May 1940; however, less so with the relations between Churchill and his cabinet, a lot of that is looked at in detail, and very well I might add.
Darkest Hour gives us a snippet of WWII and how Churchill entered as Prime Minister under such dire circumstances. It gives us a snippet of his life, a snippet of a career that had its failures and successes. It shows the frailty and strength of a man fondly remembered, someone who remained steadfast with the threat of allies surrendering to the enemy. While their soldiers are being lost, some dying because of his decisions, it was his quick thinking and belief to never give up, never surrender that saved many more. It shows a man who had to sacrifice his family; his career and country coming before those he loved most.
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Churchill’s wife, the woman who had to make do with being second to her husband’s career. The dynamic between Thomas and Oldman worked well; although you see them very little together, they show a relationship built on respect and love, despite how intolerable Churchill is portrayed at times. The relationship between Churchill and Layton, his secretary, is shown more, as they spent a lot of time together, she typing out his speeches, while he spoke aloud to her. Personal relationships are grown through business, like that of the relationship that Churchill gains with King George VI. While at first it depicts a tense atmosphere between the two, it later grows into one of support and possible friendship. Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of the stammering King is good, however, I can’t help but compare it to Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, and even Jared Harris in Netflix’s The Crown, both of which are superior performances. While I consider John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill to be exceptional, I would put Gary Oldman’s performance alongside it. He steals the entire film, his depiction of Churchill is captivating, one that really makes you feel for him, sympathise with him, one worthy of an Oscar.
There are many representations of Churchill and the King, many more depicting Britain and its soldiers and people during WWII, so Joe Wright had a lot to follow with this film, and quite a bit to live up to, however ,Darkest Hour was excellent. It expressed the intensity of politics during war, and tugged on your emotions, taking the rhetoric of Churchill and, as was stated in the movie, reminding us how “he mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.”
PG (See IFCO for details)
Darkest Hour is released 12th January 2018