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Darkest Hour – Movie Review

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Darkest Hour – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

A couple of months ago, Christopher Nolan released Dunkirk, his incredible depiction of the famous evacuation of troops on the French beaches. Through some impressive coincidence, Joe Wright has managed to craft a fitting companion piece with Darkest Hour. The decision to focus this film on Winston Churchill working behind the scenes to solve the crisis is a smart one. This is the way most biopics could go, opting to focus on a specific point in a famous person’s life, rather than going from cradle to grave. As led by an impressive performance from Gary Oldman, Wright takes us through 10 Downing Street and Parliament, transporting us to a time when the world was uncertain about the looming Nazi threat.

For the most part, Joe Wright plays things straight. He goes flashy when he needs to, but not at the expense of the story he’s telling. The backdoor dealings as politicians squabble and attempt to figure out how to remove Churchill from power are genuinely invigorating. The mechanizations of politics really have not changed that much in the years since World War II. The most important decision Wright, screenwriter Anthony McCarten and Oldman make is not to idolize Churchill. While he is generally revered in British society, he definitely has his faults and Darkest Hour depicts a good number of them. The most prominent is his treatment of his secretary. As played by Lily James, we immediately sympathise with her as she deals with his occasional outbursts.

Buried under a ton of makeup, Gary Oldman is able to look the part, but does not merely rely on the transformation. Oldman showcases a man both confident that he can win the war as well as desperate. There’s a knowingness that he is not taken seriously by his peers, but he would rather win over the hearts and minds of the British populace than the stuffy upper crust of Parliament. The best scene in Darkest Hour is when he decides to take the Underground and it’s almost a sigh of relief as we see him interact with regular folks making their commute to work. This is deliberate on Wright and McCarten’s part, after having us watch mostly politicians discuss amongst themselves through much of the film.

Oldman delivers Churchill’s famous speeches with the necessary pomp. One can almost feel him getting excited to say these words right before the cameras start rolling. Yet the film isn’t merely Churchill giving rousing declarations for two hours. Kristen Scott Thomas is sadly underused in the role of Churchill’s wife Clementine, but she and Oldman have nice scenes together. There’s also a moment when he shares a laugh with James over a faux-pas with the press that makes the audience giggle along with them. It’s these pockets of humanity sprinkled throughout Darkest Hour that give it that necessary spark, although there are a couple of dry spots we have to slog through.

Instead of seeing it as competition, the filmmakers behind Darkest Hour should be mighty pleased that Dunkirk was also released this year. One immediately thinks back to certain sequences in that picture when we see Churchill and the generals strategize. It adds an extra layer to the proceedings and the two would make a worthy double feature. However, on its own, Darkest Hour still proves to be a solid backstage look at the early part of Churchill’s leadership. It’s hard to envy somebody who has been pushed into this situation and try to do all that’s necessary to stop an approaching evil. One could argue this is mostly an actor’s piece, but the filmmaking surrounding him is what allows the performance to work.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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