He’s one of the most documented men of the 20th century, the Prime Minister whose job it was to save Britain from the tyranny of the Nazis. With German forces on their doorstep and France and Belgium on the retreat, Winston Churchill was alone in more ways than one. This film truly is his Darkest Hour.
Rising to power as “the ship sinks”, Churchill faces opponents at every turn, even within his own War Cabinet. Only 300,000 English Soldiers remain in the entire Army, most of who are trapped at Dunkirk, trying to cross the Channel to Dover. Hitler has a firm grip on Europe and is seemingly unstoppable in his maniacal endeavours.
The King is against him, his predecessor is against him, the public, too, has no faith in their government, and the USA is refusing to help – talk about a tricky situation. One has to take a moment to remember – I’m not describing a fictional film here, this all happened right at the height of World War II (more or less – creative license is definitely in use in this film).
Gary Oldman is so good as Churchill I forgot this wasn’t a documentary. In my mind he is the frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar, and while I thought nobody could do the role better than John Lithgow in ‘The Crown’, this tops it. Every role in this movie is stellar actually, from Kristin Scott Thomas to Lily James and Ben Mendelsohn.
Set in a bleak 1940s London, Churchill had a month to save the Western World – and he kinda did. He’s probably the most skilled orator in recent history, after Herr Hitler of course, where the two use words as weapons to shape their rhetoric, one for good – the other, not so much.
Despite a lack of pragmatism at times, Churchill is belligerent, ill tempered and brash, yet simultaneously endearing and incredibly likeable, a born leader. It takes almost the whole film before he starts to earn the respect he deserves, in a position of power where there are no right answers. We get to look back in hindsight now and say he made the right call, but at the time? Watching him battle with the options is gut-wrenchingly tense.
From a production standpoint, this film is slick and stylish. Director Joe Wright subverts traditional camera angles, using canted framing and often blocking the frame to the point you want to crane your head past the obstruction to see the action. It often feels claustrophobic, with the ever so lingering ominous vibe of what is essentially imminent death always on the mind.
We feel insular of Churchill’s tumultuous struggle with some clever and creative shooting on top – slow motion tracking shots of the streets as it zooms past in his car, or a top zoom down from the sky… bliss! It adds panache to a story that doesn’t really need it, and infusing moments of humour gives Darkest Hour a deeper emotional core, making you care that little big more.
Dendy – home of quality cinema