Reel Shorts | Darkest Hour

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

How many movies do we need about Winston Churchill in a year? I guess the answer is two!

Amid wars and rumors of war, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is chosen to be the new Prime Minister of England. The Nazis are invading France and the concern is that England will be next. The question is does England fight or negotiate peace? Churchill has his opinion but is it the right one? Is the nation prepared? All these questions and more are the focus of the latest Churchill movie, Darkest Hour.

Darkest Hour is an incredible political thriller about the beginnings of World War II in Europe. Set four years earlier than the movie Churchill, which starred Brian Cox in the titular role, Darkest Hour illustrates the early doings of Winston Churchill as he struggles to find his footing. With the white-hot breath of the Nazi Germany blowing through continental Europe, Churchill finds himself manipulating the media to rally the country and prepare it for war. Meanwhile, members of the Parliament led by Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) and former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), believe that England should negotiate a peace treaty with Germany through the assistance of Mussolini and the Italian government. With the help of his wife, Clementine, played by the wonderful Kristen Scott Thomas and his new secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) the beleaguered PM must find support and resolve to stand for his position.

Written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything), Darkest Hour paints a portrait of Winston Churchill as a super intelligent yet less than confident leader, full of failures and foibles who rises up to lead a nation greatly. McCarten’s script is sharp, smart, humorous and well-researched. He makes a point to show that great leaders are open to hearing the other side of the debate and assess them both before making decisions. Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) vision in the movie is impeccable. His use of light and shadow is artwork that needs to be studied by up-and-coming movie makers everywhere.

All of the actors are superb in this movie but their work is magnified through the interplay of the relationships in the movie. The portrayal of the relationship between Oldman and Thomas’ characters as so tender and sweet at times and brutal but still loving others is an inspiration to having a marriage that endures the pressures of politics. The relationship between Churchill and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) grows and changes right before our eyes from polite disdain to somber respect.

It is impossible to tell whether the power lies in the script, direction or acting because all of it is outstanding, however, the debatable star of the movie is Kazuhiro Tsuji. Tsuji was the man in charge of the prosthetic that transformed Oldman into Churchill. Oldman is nearly unrecognizable while wearing the makeup which is a distinct compliment when you think of Oldman’s striking features. Never at any time do the prosthetic give a hint of being counterfeit. While other biopics like Marshall and even Churchill focus on the actor in the role without regard to the look of the character, Darkest Hour gives you the recognizable and well-documented face of Winston Churchill.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic material, Darkest Hour would be a great double feature with the Christopher Nolan’s outstanding Dunkirk where each movie could feed and support each other. Darkest Hour is an educational, inspirational and enlightening movie that belies its title in that although the movie is about a dark time in history, the film itself is not.

Grade: A-