DARKEST HOUR (PG)
DARKEST HOUR (PG)
Run time: 125 Mins
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn
Synopsis: Within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman) must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a sceptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.
Director Joe Wright [Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), Anna Karenina (2007)] delivers an award-garnering film with a script from Anthony McCarten and a blistering, spell-binding, career-best performance from Gary Oldman [Sid and Nancy (1986), JFK (1991), True Romance (1993), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)] as Winston Churchill.
Structured like a thriller, Darkest Hour is inspired by mostly true events in the vital period in May 1940 when ailing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) resigns and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) – who also favours appeasement of Hitler – turns down the post. The war is going as badly as it can but the only leader that the opposition will accept is Churchill, who is bolstered by the loyal, loving support of his wife, Clementine (Kristen Scott Thomas) and his personal secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).
Churchill’s weaker points are not forgotten by the King, George VI (a superbly nuanced performance from Ben Mendelsohn) with whom he has uncomfortable, weekly meetings.
WW1’s Gallipoli disaster is brought up frequently and when the King expresses amazement at Churchill’s prodigious alcohol intake and asks how he does it, “Practice” is the reply.
With stunning, superbly lit cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel – a large part set in Churchill’s war rooms – there is a particularly electrifying scene when he bellows at the appeasers Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax: “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”
Darkest Hour isn’t perfect, and certain scenes stretch credibility, such as a surprise night visit from the King – now a committed Churchill supporter – who suggests that he ask the British people about resistance to Hitler. The great man does just that! In a curiously protracted one stop journey on the London Underground’s District Line, he solicits opinion, culminating in him chorusing Macauley’s Horatius – “To every man upon this earth/Death cometh soon or late” – with a young black man, which injects a jarring, almost fantasy note.
However Gary Oldman’s delivery of the: “Fight on the beaches” speech is worth the ticket price alone, and a standing ovation – perhaps in Oscar-land?
Images courtesy of UNIVERSAL PICTURES