Darkest Hour – Film Review
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendolsohn, Stephen Dillane
Director: Joe Wright
Synopsis: In the early days of World War II, with the rest of Europe falling under the iron grip of the Nazis, Winston Churchill ascends to the role of Prime Minister, with the country seemingly on the brink of almost certain defeat…
Review: In periods of war, strong leadership from those who hold positions of power can be the difference between victory and defeat. Never is this more applicable than for the United Kingdom in the early years of the Second World War, which like the film’s title success was truly some of the darkest days for the country. The Nazis closed in having swiftly conquered the majority of Western Europe, and there seemed to be no one capable of stopping Hitler from his mission of total domination across the continent. This is of course, until one man came to the fore, and that man is of course Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.
Being one of, if not the most prominent Prime Ministers in UK history, there has been a great many actor to play Churchill, and Gary Oldman becomes the latest man to assume the role, and it is one that he fully commits to, giving an absolutely incredible performance that has rightfully installed him as a hot favourite to finally scoop a Best Actor Oscar this year. His performance captures Churchill and his mannerisms so well that at times you forget that it is indeed Oldman under all that makeup.
Having seen his predecessor Neville Chamberlain being forced into resignation, Churchill assumes office and immediately realise the enormity of the task facing him as the British forces find themselves stranded on the French coast with the Germans closing in fast. While Churchill favours a more guns blazing approach, there are those who would prefer to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler and as one character calls him, his “lackey” Mussolini. As the days go by and the situation worsens, pressure and indeed opposition towards him grows stronger, but Churchill will not yield.
Given the gravity of the situation, it would be easy for the script to be completely dreary. However, the screenplay by Anthony McCarten allows for plenty of humour, of which Churchill is of course front and centre. Aside from Oldman’s towering performance, the rest of the supporting cast all deliver assured performances. Chief among these are Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife Clementine and Lily James as his secretary Elizabeth Layton, while neither are given extensive amounts of screentime, they both make their mark on Churchill and are figures of support as he battles his opponents who are calling for him to negotiate for peace, led by the stern Viscount Halifax, who is expertly portrayed by Stephen Dillane.
With meticulous production design by Sarah Greenwood, director Joe Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel capture 1940s London in intriguing visual style. The scenes in Parliament especially stand out in the way Wright shoots them, using lighting that gives the scenes an almost melancholic feel to them, which to be fair wouldn’t entirely be out of place in war time. Yet it is here where Oldman shines brightest, giving the rousing “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech that has taken its deserved place as one of the best speeches in history.
In what is almost a companion piece to the gripping retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation from Christopher Nolan, while that film focuses on the evacuation itself, Darkest Hour focuses on the man who at a time when his country needed him most, rose to the challenge and helped to make it all possible. In the darkest hour that perhaps the UK has ever faced, one man showed us the light.