This year, we were given not one, but two major films about World War II. The first one, Dunkirk, focuses on the brutality and horrors of war. The second, Darkest Hour, turns its lens on the men who made the decisions.
Director Joe Wright continues his saga of redefining British historical film, this time using a script by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) and the so often unused talent of Gary Oldman, to bring to the screen a very politically incorrect portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, during the weeks after being appointed Prime Minister in 1940. Oldman plays Churchill (with the help of an impressive make-up and prosthetics job), disappearing completely under the great man’s mumblings, walking and wry sarcasm. He swears, he doesn’t care, and he is a man that has doubts about his own value to his country. That is for sure the most endearing and compelling aspect of Darkest Hour – the way we are given the Hero before History decided he was one. If in The Crown we have post-glory Churchill, Wright and McCarten try really hard to take the man off the pedestal – they even show him in the toilet. His speeches – nowadays so revered and quoted – are received with almost indifference by his party contemporaries; the power games inside the Parliament seem to take precedence over the imminent threat of a Nazi invasion. Of course, it is very easy not to care when you know what’s going to happen in the end – and it’s definitely easy to judge actions retroactively – but the genius of Darkest Hour is exactly that: it’s about showing an imperfect being fighting to do the right thing, when everyone around him doesn’t believe it is the right thing to do at all.
With somewhat of a chamber film feel, Darkest Hour is, like its protagonist, far from perfection. The cinematography (by Bruno Delbonnel, who also lensed Dark Shadows and Amélie, and here nominated for an Academy Award) goes full on dramatic, with harsh high bright light coming from windows at almost all scenes, and some fancy camera cranes popping here and there, giving it an unnecessary theatricality at points, and becoming very distractive in others. The film also has “BBC television series” moments, with the scene at the underground feeling completely out of place and tone.
Still, for Oldman’s performance alone (and we are 95% certain he will bring the golden man home), Darkest Hour is worth the watch. With great lines such as “He’s delusional./He’s English!”, we are sure many will see many modern times winks to a certain present situation (something about the Continent being a waste of resources and the Americans having a deaf ear), but fear not, Wright is never the man to create waves. Watch safely with a cuppa.
Darkest Hour was in UK cinemas from 12th January 2018