Coming off the critical and financial disappointment of Pan, Director Joe Wright bounces back with Darkest Hour—the story of Winston Churchill’s rise to Prime Minister of Great Britain and his first arduous month once he assumed power.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis are storming across Europe and England is in crisis. The appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) have failed and England must appoint a new Prime Minister. Enter Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), a man that even his allies can scarcely tolerate. However, Churchill believes that the only answer to Hitler is to meet him head on—a sentiment that many Brits favor. So, despite the misgivings of King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), who prefers Chamberlain ally Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane), Churchill is made Prime Minister. As he assumes office, Churchill’s work is already cut out for him as he is beset by enemies and treachery right from the jump. However, he needs to prove himself quickly—the Nazis have the entire British army on the run and surrounded at Dunkirk in France.
Darkest Hour is an excellent film that tells a compelling political story and is filled with stirring moments. Wright and Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel employ some inventive photography throughout, which makes a film that could easily be a stage play, a bit more visually interesting. The film is also a great companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s excellent Dunkirk, which tells the military side of things, while Darkest Hour focuses on the political. The film does drag here and there in parts, but for the most part, I was captivated.
Of course, the main reason for that captivation is Gary Oldman, who completely crushes it as Churchill. Cocooned in his fat suit, Oldman is nearly unrecognizable, but he uses the makeup to his advantage as he becomes Churchill. There were times I felt that Churchill could have used some subtitles, but that’s just the way the guy talked. Now, does the film give a nuanced and complete portrait of Churchill’s entire life, which was, by all accounts, complicated? No, because that’s not what this movie is about. Despite what you may think of Churchill the man, it can’t be denied that this film is a great call to stand up to some of the same evils we are, inexplicably, facing today. The film that is presented here is great—end of story.
In addition to Oldman’s brilliant performance, Lily James does great work as Churchill’s new secretary, Elizabeth Layton. Kristen Scott Thomas is also great as Churchill’s wife, Clemmie. I also really enjoyed Mendelsohn as King George VI. All three have several fantastic scenes opposite Oldman that are both funny and tense. As Churchill’s main political rivals, Pickup and Dillane also shine.
Overall, Darkest Hour may not satisfy all Churchill critics, but it’s compelling and rousing and features one of Gary Oldman’s greatest performances. See it.