1940 was one of the darkest years of the Second World War. On May 10th, 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain at a time when it was at it’s most vulnerable; in six weeks the Wehrmacht swept through France and the low countries ending all allied operations on the Western Front and pushed the BEF and their allies back to the English Channel, at Dunkirk where they would be evacuated from French soil as German troops closed in and captured the Channel ports. This would become the most defining moment of the Second World War with over 345, 895 soldiers being evacuated from the beaches of France in what would be known as “The Miracle of Dunkirk.”
It has been a remarkable year for these sort of movies, the events surrounding Dunkirk has been portrayed in about 2 movies with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk being a complete masterpiece and often is called the British response to Saving Private Ryan. The mechanics surrounding this film is something we haven’t seen yet, there were political decisions determining to see how all of this would play out as the troops were stranded on the beaches of France, these decisions were made in dark rooms by men tasked with preserving the British Empire. To add to the already accidental two part films surrounding these events, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is a brilliant masterpiece about Winston Churchill resisting the defeat of the British that adds the finishing touch to this accidental trilogy.
There has been deceptions about Winston Churchill in the past and we’ve seen King George VI on screen alot lately with The King’s Speech and Netflix’s The Crown. We’ve seen alot of this period in British history on screen recently that it kind of takes it’s toll a little bit but Mr. Wright has found something untapped in this era using a very good script to weave himself into this familiar territory of British history, giving us a glimpse into what happened behind the scenes while giving us a movie that is quite compelling.
As Churchill, Gary Oldman is the definite Churchill. Gary Oldman’s performance is one of those towering achievements that only comes once under a blue moon, it’s transformation and you’re astounded by his performance. We get little insight into his psyche, quick small references to the disaster at Gallipoli only 21 years prior and his battle with depression, before he musters up to the task at hand. Although, we do get glimpses of the man that he must have been before Gallipoli and before he was the Prime Minister of Britain. Mr. Oldman does a fantastic job bringing Churchill to life; from how he behaved to the way he sounded without knowing you’re actually seeing an actor is quite surreal. In my opinion, his portrayal of Winston Churchill is the most definite.
One actor doesn’t make a movie, does it? Of course not. Darkest Hour features alot of actors that bring their best, including Lily James and Kristen Scott Thomas who both play two women in the center of Churchill’s life: Lily James plays his assistant and Kristen Scott Thomas plays Churchill’s wife, Clemmie, doing her best in a time where the nation was at war once again and in a time with what could’ve been a difficult task of being a wife to the nation’s newly minted Prime Minister. Both bring fantastic performances. On top of that, the film has a crisp and cool British vibe to it; a British resolve that puts the icing on the cake.
The film tunes into that resolve and doesn’t let go until one particular scene that almost ruins the film by placing Churchill in the London tube and that is where I just cringed. This is supposed to be an inspiring scene but instead falls flat and it’s somewhat of a misstep but it doesn’t really derail the movie as I make it out to seem.
This scene doesn’t derail the film and Wright sends us out ready for action. Which, of course, is where the film finds it’s relevance and becomes masterpiece material: A grand story of British resistance against a dangerous foe in a time where it would seem like the Germans have the upper hand. Darkest Hour is a great companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk ; these two British directors tackle this part of British history with ease and in their own ways. It would easily make a good two part film collection.
Anyways, I suggest you watch these films back to back. I might even do that this weekend, don’t give Darkest Hour a lookover.