DARKEST HOUR illuminates a pivotal moment for Churchill
Darkest Hour is more than just a historical WWII drama. It charts not only the early days of newly minted Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, but the lead up to the mass evacuation of Dunkirk which could be his first political and war-time victory. History remembers political leaders differently, through various lenses of experience and facts, and this is but one of those interpretations.
It is wartime in Britain, and the Nazis are beating feet towards their island. Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) steps down as prime minister, a vote of no confidence ushering him out. A new man is forced to step up. There is very little confidence in Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), who is seen as impulsive, brash, and not even a little bit nice. He terrorizes his secretary (Lily James), he’s barely polite to King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), who in turn shows the same courtesy, and there’s still a plot to down-vote Churchill. Meanwhile, Nazi forces have overrun France and the allied forces are shoved to the very edge of the country. Churchill has to gauge the temperature of the people, keep Parliament happy, appease the King, and convince his wife he’s totally got this. The politics of war, not only with an opposing force, but opposition within one’s own government is deftly navigated, highlighting the personal and professional costs of every decision.
Gary Oldman looks fantastic as enthusiastic eater and connoisseur of whisky and cigars, Winston Churchill. Once you can get past the incredible makeup job, one that will no doubt get Kazuhiro Tsuji (Hellboy, Planet of the Apes) another well-deserved Oscar nod, Oldman disappears completely into the roll in mannerisms, affectations and oration. Kristin Scott Thomas as his wife Clemmie provides the grounding force all great men need to remain firmly planted while aspiring to lofty political goals.
There is empathy in the drama, and it feels as real as if you had a stake in the outcome. Director Joe Wright is no stranger to sweeping biographies and lush adaptations, and he seamlessly blends life-story with world events, creating a snapshot of London on the brink of collapse. Whether or not you’ve seen Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk, Darkest Hour is the perfect double feature companion.
Darkest Hour is rated PG-13 for swears, wartime deaths, drinking, cigar smoking over breakfast, and the mere idea of Churchill naked.