Written by: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup
Decisions and acts during a time of war typically occur with the full breadth of information missing and a host of negative implications for making the wrong one. During World War II, England found itself between a rock and a hard place in their approach to battling Hitler, which had them turn their faith towards Winston Churchill. Darkest Hour takes us through this perilous time for the nation and what it took to get England on the right foot as they stood up against fascism.
After asking Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) to resign as Prime Minister in 1940, looking for who could take up the role leads to the rise of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman. A loud-mouthed and very opinionated man, who has not accrued the greatest reputation. With different political machinations operating against him and on the brink of surrender to Hitler, Churchill takes on one of the most difficult tasks of any sovereign leader.
World War II has produced a plethora of films displaying the struggle involved from various perspectives. With so many nations involved and several viewpoints to see, it appears this well will never dry out. In this story, we see it through the eyes of Winston Churchill and the weight of the decisions he had to make. This does not serve as a biopic of the man’s life, but rather a view of a segment of his life leading the country of England in one of the most perilous times in history. With this method, the story succeeds in its efforts to be succinct with the events and further builds up the tension of the circumstance.
As the story progresses, Darkest Hour demonstrates the isolated place England found itself during this time in World War II. France had been invaded by Germany along with other countries, which meant the uncompromised allies for England continued to shrink. A particular conversation Churchill has with United States President Roosevelt, perfectly shows that for this stretch of time, the decisions made by England could shift where the war would lead. They could either sign a hackneyed peace treaty with fascists, which many members of Parliament advocated for, or they could refuse and fight, an option that would bring potential pain to the people of the country. Certainly an unenviable situation, but this film does well in showing the personal toll it had on the man we follow.
Winston Churchill comes with his baggage when watching a film like this because he undoubtedly had an incredible impact during World War II, but the man had a host of issues. Some of them were outlined in the film, which I’m surprised brought them up. Some include his very racist views on what occurred in India and other places where he definitely landed on the wrong side of history. Even with all of the issues, his contribution to inspiring English folks to fight back when surrender remained imminent cannot be argued. His power as a speaker contributes to this, which we get to witness firsthand with the strong monologues he delivers on the Parliament floor.
This film cannot be talked about without mentioning the tremendous performance put on by Gary Oldman as Churchill. Visually, this demonstrates a masterwork of makeup by the brilliant Kazuhiro Tsuji. It was hard to look at Oldman during the Oscar campaign trail and then looking back to how he seamlessly fit into this iconic figure in world history. Even with the makeup and strong performance by Oldman, the cinematography certainly also plays a role in how the shadows and lighting helped disguise any deficiencies. After all, makeup cannot do all of the work in trying to convince us someone has transformed into another. The dark rooms and contrasts established set up Oldman to do the rest of the work and he definitely delivers. Oldman captures the rambunctiousness of this man, while also allowing the peeling back of the layer many have not seen. He delivers the money shots and monologues like a professional and gives an astounding performance.
Darkest Hour takes a snapshot of history and does it with a complicated figure. While it does not do much to challenge the character on a personal level, I appreciate the urgency of the matter of this war happening around him. This film remained focused on the weight on his shoulders with every decision he had to make, which could cause the deaths of millions. An unlikeable task but one Churchill stepped up and took on.