Darkest Hour (2017)

  • Time: 114 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: Joe Wright
  • Cast: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn


Within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.

One review

  • Words are powerful. They can inflame and inspire. The latter was certainly true for Winston Churchill, who served as Great Britain’s Prime Minister from 1940 – 1945 and once again from 1951 – 1955. The British Bulldog, voted the Greatest Briton of all time in a 2002 poll, has been having quite the Renaissance this year with Brian Cox portraying him in this year’s Churchill and John Lithgow giving a staggering, Emmy-awarded performance in Netflix’s The Crown. Christopher Nolan kept him in the background for Dunkirk, preferring to focus on the soldiers and civilians fighting the good fight. How fortuitous then that Darkest Hour arrives mere months after Nolan’s success, for Joe Wright’s drama narrows in on the first month of Churchill’s first term as Prime Minister, during which he changed the tide of history.

    It is May 9, 1940. Britain is in the midst of a war that they are certain to lose. The government has lost confidence in current Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), who has no choice but to tender his resignation to King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) and help pick his successor. Though Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) is the popular choice amongst his party, he doesn’t have the support of the opposition and so the Prime Ministership is reluctantly bestowed upon the 66-year-old Churchill, first introduced in his pyjamas, lighting up a cigar, having a liquid breakfast, and duly traumatising his new secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).

    It bears noting that Churchill wasn’t immediately the great white hope for Britain’s ills. In fact, the only support he seemed to have was from his wife Clementine (the always superb Kristin Scott Thomas), who advises him to tone down his overbearing rudeness so that others may love and respect him as she does. Churchill’s support of Edward VIII abdication and subsequent marriage to Wallis Simpson, amongst a litany of other catastrophes, colours the King’s view of him. Halifax and Chamberlain, meanwhile, conspire to undermine Churchill, whose stance on the war, is in direct conflict with their intention to broker a peace deal with Hitler. If they can get Churchill on record to state that he refuses to engage in peace talks, then they can vote him out and Halifax can be Prime Minister. The task appears easy enough as Churchill was disliked by his colleagues, one of whom points out that Churchill “wakes with a scotch, bottle of champagne for lunch, another one for dinner, brandy and port until the dawn. I wouldn’t let him borrow my bicycle.”

    Churchill himself was flecked with self-doubt, his “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” declaration during his first day as Prime Minister seemingly turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy since he had no concrete plans on how to win the war. All he had was his bluster, and yet he knows that it is that very same bluster that can imbue the people with a feeling they never even knew they possessed. As a chagrined Halifax would later note, Churchill “mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.”

    One of the great pleasures in Darkest Hour is in listening to Churchill orate, whether to rouse the nation (“Whatever the cost and agony may be be, conquer we must and conquer we shall!”) or admonish a colleague (“Will you stop interrupting me while I’m interrupting you!”). Darkest Hour is in no way subtle, but neither was Churchill and director Joe Wright somehow expands the film to fit such an outsized character, pulling off the difficult trick of making what is essentially a theatrical chamber piece into something cinematic. There’s an eloquence in Wright’s execution, even in its hokier, more romanticised moments such as the scene in which Churchill rides the underground for the first time and uses his interactions with the surprised civilians to inform his speech in Parliament after giving the go on Operation Dynamo. Every moment just feels right.

    Of course, much of the film’s success is dependent upon its lead actor and Oldman, rendered unrecognisable behind layers of makeup, is more than up to the task, never forgetting the very human man behind the lion’s roar.

    Click here for more reviews at the etc-etera site

Write your review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *