Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour works as a perfect companion to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. So much so, that ever since I saw the film, I want a combined version of Darkest Hour and Dunkirk with footage from both films placed perfectly to go with each other. I don’t know about you, but I would pay to watch that, no matter how long it might be. While Nolan’s Dunkirk shows us the military aspect of the Dunkirk evacuation, the scenario at ground zero, Darkest Hour chooses to show us the diplomatic side of it and how Winston Churchill, orchestrated Operation Dynamo to save his country’s entire fleet from getting killed by the Nazis.
The film begins in 1940 with Britain under severe threat from Hitler’s onslaught over Europe. The ruthless Nazis, with their extremely advanced weaponry, had terrorized almost the entire Europe, marching over one country after another and it was a matter of time till they launched an attack against Britain. Then Prime Minister of Britain, Neville Chamberlain, resigns under extreme pressure from the opposition Labour Party, and due to the unwillingness of Lord Halifax, he has to choose Winston Churchill as his successor. The film follows the first few weeks of Churchill’s turbulent tenure as Prime Minister.
Darkest Hour is extremely heavy with dialogues and all the actors starting from Gary Oldman (who plays Churchill) to Ben Mendelsohn (who plays King George VI) make sure that their dialogues are delivered with pitch-perfect accuracy. The film explores a side of Churchill that I haven’t seen in any portrayal of his or in any movie about him. It explores his impeccable sense of humour while enforcing the fact that he was a brilliant and strict leader, willing to make any amount of sacrifice for the love of his country. It shows Churchill as a true patriot, someone who would never let down the pride of Great Britain, even when all the allies of Britain distanced themselves from it when they needed help, and he was constantly under pressure to make peace with Hitler, which would have changed world history as we know it.
Churchill had to make some tough decisions and he did this with tremendous opposition. So much so, that he was hated by people in his own party and the king didn’t want to form a government with him. The film also pays detail to the people playing a role in Churchill’s day to day life, from his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) to his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James). Darkest Hour depicts the horrors of the Second World War perfectly with the entire country of Britain in grave danger of having to surrender to the Nazis and its citizens living their lives in underground shelters and bunkers, trying to evade the missiles the Nazis are dropping on them.
The only issue I have with Darkest Hour is probably with its attempt to humanize Winston Churchill. Churchill was a big-time racist who looked down upon the people of Britain’s colonies, like Indians and even went on to say this about them.
“I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion”.
In a scene from the movie, Churchill is shown riding an underground train/subway on his way to his office to take the opinions of the common people about making peace with Hitler. The scene is extremely heartfelt and would immediately get you to sympathize with Churchill and like him immensely. In reality, this incident never happened and is fictionalized to portray Churchill in a better light. Churchill was very unpopular with people in his own circles, so this misrepresentation is something that didn’t sit right with me.
Joe Wright sure knows how to make a period drama, with Pride and Prejudice being a solid proof of that. Bruno Delbonnel’s spectacular and gritty cinematography makes us feel the tension of the war and the intensity that built up in the British Parliament and the Buckingham Palace. Wright is also supported by some outstanding production design, with some of the film shot in the actual Palace of Westminster, being only the second film ever to be given this permission.
Darkest Hour belongs to Gary Oldman from beginning to end. He gives a career-best performance to portray the dynamic British Prime Minister. There have been so many portrayals of Churchill that I have seen, with the most recent probably being that by John Lithgow on Peter Morgan’s Netflix show The Crown, but nothing comes close to Oldman’s performance. From carrying a very weird accent to going through over 200 hours of prosthetics and makeup, Oldman surely did walk the walk. He showcases Churchill verbal prowess and the ability to take command in a situation, whether he’s facing the king or the Parliament. Oldman has already won the Golden Globe and SAG awards for his performance, and it is expected that he will bag the coveted Academy Award as well.
Kristin Scott Thomas’s Clementine Churchill knows how to lend support to her husband when he’s directionless as well as boss him around, something that a fierce persona like Churchill required. Lily James is quick-witted and humorous as Elizabeth and Ben Mendelsohn does a good job of pulling off King George VI and maintaining the hidden tension between him and Churchill.
Darkest Hour is an excellently made film, definitely one of the best British films made this year, with Oldman giving a performance that will be etched in my mind for quite some time. But at the end, it might have fictionalized a bit too much trying to make a character likeable.
An aspiring programmer by passion, Tuhin is a serial procrastinator and is occupied with three M’s – Movies, Music and Manchester United. He is obsessed with the use of colour in films, something he pours out more often than not on his Facebook page.