Darkest Hour

If you would like to see the political turmoil that Winston Churchill was facing if you threw Dunkirk and the Kings Speech together then you will probably like this.

  • Screenplay by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything)
  • Directed by Joe Wright (Anna Karenina, Atonement)
  • Starring Gary Oldman(Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the Batman franchise), Lily James (Baby Driver), Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Only God Forgives) and Ben Mendelsohn (Star Wars Rouge One, Starred Up)
  • Budget of $30m

My initial thoughts
We are deep into the Oscar season with just 6 weeks to go, and you know when an actor/film is getting a real push….because you see it advertised everywhere! the Darkest Hour is in that category – although a good film, it doesn’t quite hit the upper reaches of what makes an outstanding film.

The ‘ccc’ review
Western Europe is on the brink of collapse. Neville Chamberlain has lost the confidence of the nation. The British Troops are being pushed back on the French coast. In the opening scene, the audience are given a front row seat in parliament, the opposition demanding that the leadership changes immediately amid concerns of a German invasion. The country needs a new leader….

The Darkest Hour proved to be one of the best history lessons I ever had. The entire movie takes place over a single month starting in May 1940, the first days of Churchill’s wartime tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the internal battles he had with his political party and himself.

There is a real focus to the film. There are no throwaway scenes and Joe Wright is very pragmatic with his directing. The giant on-screen calendar pops up to keep us informed to demonstrate how quickly things progressed and how time critical decisions were. Most of the events of the film are confined to the map room or the war cabinet, and Churchill’s bedroom but it never feels congested. It may be set in the 40s but the film has a very modern feel to it.

The film is also supported by a great score by Dario Marianelli – a frequent collaborator with Joe Wright. The score ebbs and flows in unison with the film as it builds up to a final crescendo. You know if a score is half-decent when you find yourself listening to it on your morning commute!

Joe Wright sets up the film perfectly for the cast to deliver. Of course the main focus is on Oldman’s Churchill – this is where the film has gambled on it being a winner. So does Oldman lead the film to victory?

The film is not just Churchill’s darkest hour, but also Oldman’s brightest hour (2 Hours to be exact). Gary Oldman spent over 200 hours in makeup and made sure the make-up Artists work didn’t go to waste. You won’t believe this is the same person who played commissioner Gordon in Batman. His unique voice, his wit, his tendency to become frustrated and most importantly his ability to use the English language to achieve great things were all on display. Oldman plays Churchill with utter class throughout. It is a great performance.

But I can’t help but think this is not an outstanding performance. Churchill was such a character that it brings into question, is this a great imitation or a brilliant performance? This is the second film about Churchill in recent months, with Brian Cox playing the lead in the other film (just called Churchill this time). Both performances were as good as each other, for the same reasons. There is potential for both actors to be nominated for the best actor Oscar for the same character – I don’t think this has happened before in the same year, which could be a possibility this time (just to note Brando and De Niro are the only actors to have won Oscars playing the same character but in different years)

The supporting performances are strong throughout. James plays Churchills personal typist very well, Mendelsohn as the stuttering King (yes the same as Colin Firth) and Scott as Churchill’s steely wife. Even the extras play their part.

What are my final Thoughts
In the end, despite Churchill doing his best to stir the nation, there is something that holds it back from being a very good film to being a brilliant film. Perhaps it was because it doesn’t have the brutality of war, like Hackshaw Ridge, to really strike home the horrors of the war. Or maybe because I had to compare the performances of Oldman’s Churchill to others? Or just maybe, the expectation level has been so high that it never quite grabs for victory.

🎥🧐 A great history lesson which makes for an intriguing watch


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