Movie Review: Darkest Hour
Darkest Hour, the newest film following Churchill’s first installment as prime minister in the face of certain war, has finally hit theaters in our area. It was directed by Joe Wright and written by Anthony McCarten, the screenwriter behind 2014’s The Theory of Everything. It stars Gary Oldman, who is almost unrecognizable as the venerable Winston Churchill. The supporting cast is also comprised of Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, and Ronald Pickup.
Set in May of 1940, the film begins describing the state of Hitler’s takeover across Europe. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is no longer able to lead the government with the labour party accusing him of being too weak to protect national security. While the conservatives want to nominate another for prime minister, they all know there is only one man that both parties will be able to accept in the role: Winston Churchill. Churchill is quickly introduced as impatient and somewhat belligerent; however, this man is extended the invitation to form a government in this time of war. The film goes on to follow the first few weeks of Churchill’s time as prime minister and the many struggles he faces as the German army threatens to overtake their troops and possibly their island.
I think one of the truly great aspects of this film is how it captures the stakes at that time. It is incredibly easy to watch a film during this period of time and lose sight of just how hopeless England’s situation appeared. European countries were quickly falling under the power of the German army, and whenever the British troops are seemingly marooned at Dunkirk, there seems to be little hope for a British victory. It’s an amazing thing to feel Churchill’s tension and the fears of every British leader whenever you know how history plays out. On that front, I credit Anthony McCarten for capturing all of those stakes and emotions perfectly.
If we’re going to talk about this movie, though, we have to acknowledge the incredible performance given by Gary Oldman. He has already won a Golden Globe for his performance in this film, and he certainly deserves it. He perfectly captures the cantankerous nature that Churchill could easily fall into, but he also captures the heart of the man who refused to back down. Oldman captures the uncertainty and tension that defined Churchill’s early days in office, and he also captures the strained relationship that initially existed between he and the Crown. It is still a little mind boggling, though, to think that Gary Oldman is present under all of the makeup and prosthetics.
While Oldman steals the show, the supporting cast are just as important to the overall story. Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as Clementine Churchill, and she captures the love and understanding that Clementine contained for her husband. Lily James is absolutely enchanting as his faithful secretary, Elizabeth Layton, and I have to give props to Thomas and James for putting up with endless cigar smoke on set. Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of King George VI helps add another layer to the film, and the films shines all the brighter with the inclusion of Stephen Dillane as Lord Halifax and Ronald Pickup as Neville Chamberlain.
I immensely enjoyed the film, but I will admit that there were a few aspects I did not love. I found the CGI to be lacking in several areas, and there was one too many slow motion scenes of the public moving about for my liking. However, Joe Wright gives us a compelling story of Churchill’s early days in office. The whole theme of refusing to stand down in the face of evil is a theme that will never become tiring, and it fits perfectly with Churchill’s struggles. I would say that Darkest Hour is not only worth a watch in theater but deserves to be witnessed on the big screen.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.