“Darkest Hour”: A Millennial’s Movie Review
Old Man Winston
Darkest Hour is a biographical drama, directed by Joe Wright and starring Gary Oldman as the iconic British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The film takes place in May 1940, when Churchill is about to be appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. As Adolf Hitler’s German forces invade Western Europe, pushing the Allied forces back towards Dunkirk, Churchill must make an immediate impact upon entering office, as he fights to inspire the British during this time of war, while also addressing the pleas by his war cabinet to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler.
At the time of this article’s writing, Darkest Hour has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Gary Oldman and Best Picture. With its current momentum, it is clearly poised to win the former of the two, with Oldman being the frontrunner to nab his first golden statue. Director Joe Wright is well known for his work on Atonement, Anna Karenina and Black Mirror (‘Nosedive’), but his influence on 2015’s Pan did not impress critics or audiences of the time. One hopes that with the talents of Oldman as well as Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Mendelsohn, Joe Wright can turn Churchill’s darkest hour into Wright’s finest one.
Darkest Hour seizes the opportunity to tell a dialogue-heavy story as if it were an action movie. There’s a lot of talking in this film, but all of it is incredible. The sound department should have been recognised for awards, while writer Anthony McCarten also deserves major plaudits. But it is, of course, the lead actor that will snatch all the headlines, as Gary Oldman is unrecognisable in one of his best performances. This is a film about standing one’s ground in the face of overwhelming adversity, and inspiring courage, patriotism and belief in one of the most horrific wars this Earth has seen. And while some may find the length of the film off-putting, fans of Gary Oldman, Churchill, war films and rousing speeches would probably relish it.
The End of the Beginning
Though this is a beautiful film to look at, the strongest part of Darkest Hour is undoubtedly the performance by Gary Oldman as well as the razor-sharp dialogue in general. It literally isn’t Oldman you see, but Churchill. His look. His speech. His movement. All convey the idea of the quirky, polarising figure Churchill was during the time. Oldman manages to portray a Churchill that is endearing but flawed, with a way with words that makes for some outstanding dialogue. This is also the result of Anthony McCarten’s skill with the script, as the Theory of Everything writer crafts some hair-raising vocal showdowns in addition to many instances of Churchill’s amusing wit and humour. The supporting cast is solid, with Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas both embodying their roles with an elegant nuance. And the sound department does a fantastic job of making every word and sound effect ring out like a clear bell on a quiet morning. All in tandem with the high-tempo score which keeps each scene as gripping as the next.
When You’re Going Through Hell
The film shows Churchill in a mostly positive light despite his anti-peace treaty sentiments and willingness to sacrifice lives in exchange for possible victory. But putting aside any potential historical inaccuracies, the only gripe I have with Darkest Hour is that it’s a bit too long. At 2 hours and 5 minutes, it felt longer, as the music slows and the pacing dips ever so slightly just before the final third of the film. Other than that, there really isn’t much else to complain about, as the final ten minutes are simply magnificent, delivering a knockout blow that evidently had Academy voters sold.
It seems that Gary Oldman has finally won his Oscar. Darkest Hour has made Churchill cool again (or was he ever not?) But it was also a delightful surprise to see just how well the film was written, directed, acted, engineered and scored. How fitting that two very different films involving the same event are nominated for Best Picture in the same year, as Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk would make an excellent double-feature partner for Darkest Hour. As the iconic orator he was, Churchill’s speeches and quotes have become the thing of legend. But they are still powerful today. They never get old, and I would be surprised if anyone walks out of Darkest Hour without being left breathless by his words yet again.
Overall Score: 8.8/10