Before we start talking about this film and before you start writing a review, I highly recommend you watching it. Or at least the official trailer.
I promise I’ll tell you a lot about Darkest Hour in this post, but even those 2,5 minutes of the trailer will still give you a considerably better understanding of what cinematographic masterpiece you’re going to review. So, I’m ready to wait for you here while you’re watching or, maybe, re-watching the picture. See you in three minutes or so…
By the way, you can find the official video here.
…Hi there again! Are you impressed? Well, I’ll try to explain to you where these impressions, both vivid and vague, can come from. I’m going to shed more light on Darkest Hour, however metaphoric it may sound, and throw out to you a clearer idea of why this film is claimed to win an Oscar this year.
Gary Oldman + Make-Up + Pinch of Fiction = Great Movie
A few weeks before I heard about the official release of Darkest Hour in the United Kingdom one of my friends noted that there hadn’t been anything really worthy in cinemas for a long time. That day I couldn’t but agree with him.
However, and to our great relief, Joe Wright (the director of Darkest Hour) and Anthony McCarten (the screenwriter) have managed to prove us that the world’s cinematograph is still able to produce truly stunning things. According to IMDb, as of January 2018 Darkest Hour has won 29 awards, including Golden Globe for Best Actor (of course, Gary Oldman got it), and participated in 62 nominations. That looks quite impressive, taking into account that the new year for the global cinema has only just begun.
Darkest Hour tells an unfairly short abstract of the biography of the man who made and shaped British and global history at the dawn of World War II. This man is Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, also known as British Bulldog to his brothers in craft, and simply as Winnie to his family.
Honestly, if I hadn’t read in the news that the role of tenacious British Prime Minister had been meant for Gary Oldman (and we all know him as Sirius Black or as James Gordon), I would have never recognized him. High-tech make-up and his unrivaled acting skills did their job perfectly.
The storyline is focused on the first five weeks of Churchill’s office (May-June 1940), marked by successful Operation Dynamo or the Dunkirk evacuation. Yet this is not the only one climax of the film, though it classically comes in the very end.
With all his intelligence, farsightedness, stubbornness, charisma, and self-confidence Winston Churchill becomes “the last hope” of Great Britain, facing the approaching Nazi tyranny. Separated from Western Europe by the English Channel, and hence protected by it, the British Isles are watching gradual capitulation of Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, and other countries. But the threat of the German invasion of Great Britain is getting more and more difficult to deny.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers are surrounded by the German Army in the north of France. Despite their strong resistance, British command realizes that the army is doomed to defeat unless urgent measures are taken.
It’s Churchill who is expected to make the final decision, and this duty to the whole nation forces him to face a painful dilemma. On the one hand, he can and must prepare his country to fight. He eloquently expresses this idea in his speeches to Parliament, hints on it in his dialogues with King George VI, and tries to spread it across Great Britain by radio. But he receives hardly any support from the government he heads.
On the other hand, he is offered to negotiate peace with Adolf Hitler. What’s more, two of Churchill’s most powerful colleagues – ex-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax – are determined to publicly resign if he doesn’t make any concessions. The main arguments for the peace treaty are the potential prevention of German occupation of Great Britain and the rescue of the Allied forces in France.
Despite that Winston Churchill opts for his initial intention: Great Britain will fight. How can the Empire count on peace if it is facing Nazism striving to conquer the whole world? Churchill is one of the few who realizes that in a war no peace treaty can guarantee protection from occupation, destruction, and death.
In the film his confidence about the decision to resist gets stronger after he talks to average Londoners in the Tube. On his way to the Parliament where he is expected to give the decisive speech Churchill escapes from his car to the subway. Winning the trust of the slightly shocked people with the help of his eloquence and charisma, he asks what they think about peace with Germany. All men and women in the train say they will never agree on it. They will fight and protect their homes.
So nowadays, fortunately, we can only guess what way history would have gone if Winston Churchill hadn’t listened to their voices and his own mind.
Although both the director and screenwriter claim that the scene in the tube is not 100% true, it’s still one of the most touching episodes of the film. Besides, it can be considered as a “what-if-style” interpretation of Churchill’s real-life habit to go AWOL, get lost (literally) in the crowd, and seek London commoners’ counsel.
All in all, the great have their own quirks and twists. Talking to mere mortals definitely isn’t the worst of them.
Gary Oldman has managed to introduce the personality of Winston Churchill very skillfully. He is confident among his friends and opponents, he is friendly to common people, he is dedicated to his King and country, he is tender to his loving wife Clementine. The other characters perfectly highlight his most noticeable personal qualities. But who he would be without them is another question. Probably, he wouldn’t be that Winston Churchill, that British Bulldog, whom the world still remembers and respects.
The acting in the film is outstanding. The combination of “factual” and “emotional” truths is reasonable and can be justified without a twinge of conscience. But I wouldn’t recommend Darkest Hour to those who prefer much action – it is a classical biopic about a famous person, so don’t expect any plot twists and rapid change of events.
Plus, I don’t think this film is a good choice for those of us who don’t like history in general or don’t know much about WW2 or Winston Churchill in particular. It isn’t enough to know that he was Prime Minister of Great Britain in the middle of the 20th century. Despite really professional and impressive filming, some viewers might still feel uncomfortable because they simply don’t know certain historical facts on which the picture is based.
Nonetheless, Darkest Hour has brought my personal faith in modern cinematograph back! So, I’d give it 10 out of 10 and recommend it to everyone who values quality films.