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Darkest Hour Review

December 28, 2017 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Darkest Hour
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Darkest Hour Review  

Directed By: Joe Wright
Written By: Anthony McCarten
Runtime: 125 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic material

Gary Oldman – Winston Churchill
Ben Mendelsohn – King George VI
Kristin Scott Thomas – Clementine Churchill
Lily James – Elizabeth Layton
Stephen Dillane – Lord Halifax
Ronald Pickup – Neville Chamberlain

May 1940. The nation of England is standing on the edge of a blade. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime are escalating their campaign against Europe. Almost the entire British army has been stranded on the beach of Dunkirk, France. Parliament has lost all faith in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and forced him to resign. The nation is at a crossroads and faces the threat of invasion. War is on the doorstep of Great Britain. The role of Prime Minister is a job that no one wants. Not even Chamberlain’s hand-picked successor, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, wants to take the post. The only man left to lead the country through one of its most uncertain periods is First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Darkest Hour is a fantastic film that depicts and dramatizes the crucial early weeks of Churchill’s administration, which are also quite possibly the most crucial weeks of the country. history.

The film opens shortly before the transition to Churchill’s (Oldman) administration. Europe is continually falling to Nazi Germany, and it appears Great Britain is next. Churchill faces opposition from both sides. He only got the job because no one else really wanted it. Meanwhile, both his predecessor, Chamberlain (Pickup), and his cabinet member, Lord Halifax (Dillane), are conspiring to get him voted out of office. King George VI (Mendelsohn) is less than enthusiastic about Churchill’s promotion and doesn’t want Churchill at the post. Even the Opposition who forced Chamberlain out hates Churchill since he switched parties. This is 1940, so the United States is still attempting to remain neutral from the conflict. Churchill believes the only answer is resistance, but England is still weary from the last war and loathe to face another. The odds are stacked against the United Kingdom and Churchill, and he has the burden of being the man who could bring the entire country to ruin.

Director Joe Wright is incredibly well-suited for this material, transporting viewers back to England during such a tumultuous time period. Gary Oldman was born to play the role of Churchill, truly displaying the legendary figure’s strength, tenacity and eccentricities, but also Churchill’s flaws and vulnerabilities. Wright’s direction and writer Anthony McCarten’s script never shy away from showing Churchill in his weaker moments. The historic view of Churchill is that of a courageous individual with an iron will who carried England through the second World War. However, the film offers plenty of introspective moments where Churchill has the weight of the whole world on his shoulders, and he appears on the verge of defeat. These are some of the finest moments in Darkest Hour.

Oldman is no stranger to roles under heavy makeup, but Churchill is not an over-the-top villain. He completely commits to the role, which is a joy to watch onscreen. Oldman’s charisma and presence are undeniable, and watching the scenes where he delivers some of Churchill’s iconic speeches and addresses are just as exciting as the best signature sequence in any high-octane action-thriller

It’s hard to deny how well the film plays as a companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s own World War II film, Dunkirk, which was released earlier this year. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who has even acknowledged how well the film works as a companion piece to Dunkirk, scripts events that work almost like they could be slotted in between certain scenes of the aforementioned film. Not to mention, the time period for Darkest Hour is condensed, and the outcome of Dunkirk is a significant portion of the narrative.

The weakest aspect of Darkest Hour comes in the form of Lily James as Churchill’s new secretary, Elizabeth Layton. It’s a very forced element that almost acts as a perfunctory love story. Layton almost becomes a muse of sorts for Churchill and a source of his inspiration. Churchill sheds some of his armor and shows more vulnerability with Layton than he does with his own wife, Clementine (Scott Thomas). The film feels most manipulative during the moments that play up Layton’s role in Churchill’s life, including his most iconic speech.

The drawback to the Layton character is that it essentially undercuts the role of Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill. Scott Thomas is very good in what is a very thankless role. However, it seems that more valuable screen time is given over to Layton as Churchill’s young secretary and muse over Clementine, his wife.

Regardless, Wright and McCarten really add a lot of suspense in setting up a ticking clock through the idea of Chamberlain and Halifax conspiring to remove Churchill if he does not agree to their suggestion of mediation. This is peppered with the clock going against the army in Dunkirk as Churchill seeks to spearhead Operation Dynamo. Oldman’s charismatic and commanding performance beautifully anchor the picture. There truly is no other acting performance more worthy of the Best Actor statue for this year.

Darkest Hour is an uplifting picture showing the legend that is Churchill, but also depicting a man who was likely just as terrified than much of the citizens at the time. But the man still had the strength to see it through to the end.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Gary Oldman delivers the performance of a lifetime in Darkest Hour as the legendary Winston Churchill. This is not a deconstruction of Churchill, but Joe Wright and Anthony McCarten still manage to showcase Churchill as a real person, frightened and vulnerable from the choices he had to make during such an uncertain time in the history of England. The only choice for Best Actor is Gary Oldman.