Churchill Takes Charge in England's Darkest Hour
As the Nazi forces made their march through Europe, the British had grown tired of a Prime Minister who'd tried and repeatedly failed to appease Hitler. In Darkest Hour, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), facing ever growing opposition to his ways, resigns from office. To avoid a struggle to name a replacement, Parliament seeks a man whom they believe will get majority support. The man they appoint is Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), a blunt and gruff statesman opposed to any further appeasement. Churchill had previously taken other unpopular stances, including one during World War I which resulted in disaster in Gallipoli. As he takes office, British and French forces find themselves surrounded on French soil as the Nazis take control in the Netherlands and Belgium. Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) wants to negotiate a peace with Hitler through Italy, but Churchill wants none of that. Instead, Churchill orders forces in Calais to engage the enemy in an effort to bring together all forces for an evacuation at Dunkirk. From there, he orders the usage of private boats to rescue the 300,000 men on that beach.
The new leader also finds he needs to adjust some elements of his style. When his new secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), makes a mistake in her work, Winston gets angry. He also gets a slight rebuke from his wife, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) for this action. His war plans also get the attention of King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), who has contemplated moving himself and his family to Canada as the war continues to move westward. The unexpected success of Operation Dynamo helps to give the King the resolve to trust Churchill. As he makes his plans to defeat Hitler, he retains both Chamberlain and Halifax, who opted to not replace Chamberlain, as his closest advisers. As he prepares his first radio address to his country, he finds his ways almost unanimously opposed in the Parliament. The Prime Minister, though, takes an unscheduled detour on his way to chambers and has an impromptu meeting with some of his citizens.
Darkest Hour, with the timing of its release, might seem like a companion piece to the very popular 2017 release Dunkirk. Darkest Hour takes a look at the first weeks of Churchill's leadership, before the events of the rescue mission on the French beach. Darkest Hour does more to focus on the historical events than Dunkirk, which told the facts without focusing on the historical figures there. Darkest Hour shows a man who knows unpopular and doesn't fear it. Churchill fears what could happen if he doesn't get the British to make every effort to stop the forces of Herr Hitler. The screenplay from Anthony McCarten shows both the private and the public sides of a man who suddenly finds himself trying to change the course of the war. This is the best film I've seen from director Joe Wright since he made his big screen debut with Pride And Prejudice. Wright takes viewers through the process of Churchill taking charge to his first big speech in an effort to make his country aware of the need to change its thinking as war threatened to change Europe and the world.
Oldman stands front and center in a commanding performance as Winston Churchill. He'd not always made the wisest of stands in his younger days, yet he showed a determination to put the past behind him. He makes it clear to all in the Parliament that negotiations with Hitler are absolutely the last option. His transition to statesman doesn't always go easily, but he learns to listen to people and be patient with Elizabeth as she adapts to her new role and talks about her loved ones in combat. He knows time is not his ally as nations fall, and Britain and France are the next in line of the Nazi crosshairs. He has to convince English people at all levels that he has a better plan to face the enemy - and that confronting the enemy is the best option. Oldman shows a man who finds a voice that reaches a nation with legitimate concerns for their future. Oldman gets fine support from Thomas, James, and the others. David Strathairn has a vocal cameo as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who knows he can do nothing for Churchill at that point of the war.
Darkest Hour shows England at a crossroads in their history, where the Nazis seemed unstoppable. Winston Churchill, in a few short weeks, had to bring a nation together and convince them they needed to prepare to give everything in order to stop the Germans. Their efforts had to start with bringing their forces out of harm's way and develop a new plan of attack.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Darkest Hour four stars. No more appeasement for Hitler.
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© 2018 Pat Mills