Should I Watch..? 'Darkest Hour'

Updated on December 10, 2019
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online for over fifteen years.

Film's poster
Film's poster | Source

What's the big deal?

Darkest Hour is a dramatic war biopic film released in 2017 and is a fictionalised account of Winston Churchill's first few weeks as Prime Minister during the Second World War. Written by award-winning screenwriter Anthony McCarten, the film stars Gary Oldman as Churchill and is supported by Kristen Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn. The film was a critical success with many calling Oldman's performance the best of his long career and sure enough, the actor finally secured a Best Actor Oscar for the role. The film also proved popular with audiences who helped the film earn a worldwide total of over $150 million - $33.4 million of that was earned in the UK alone. However, the film has come in for criticism for historical inaccuracies as well as a possible pro-Brexit bias.


4 stars for Darkest Hour

What's it about?

In May 1940, the British Government is trying to stave off the opposition Labour Party's motion for Conservative Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to resign following his failure to challenge Adolf Hitler and the rise of the German Nazi forces. Chamberlain prepares to hand power over to his colleague Viscount Halifax but the Viscount declines, claiming that the only leader the Opposition would tolerate is Winston Churchill despite his past political failures and abrasive nature. Nevertheless, Churchill is invited to Buckingham Palace by King George VI and agrees to become Prime Minister.

At first, Churchill goes against all prevailing advice by issuing a radio address hailing the success of the campaign on the Western Front. But the true is more horrifying - the Germans are sweeping across Western Europe with Belgium and Holland falling under Nazi control and the French offering little to no resistance. Worse still, the British Army are trapped in northern France with no chance of escape and surrounded by incoming German forces. Faced with the possibility of having to surrender and negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler, Churchill struggles to decide what course of action should be undertaken with countless lives at stake...

Main Cast

Gary Oldman
Winston Churchill
Lily James
Elizabeth Layton
Kristen Scott Thomas
Clementine Churchill
Stephen Dillane
Viscount Halifax
Ronald Pickup
Neville Chamberlain
Samuel West
Sir Anthony Eden
Ben Mendelsohn
King George VI

Technical Info

Joe Wright
Anthony McCarten
Running Time
125 minutes
Release Date (UK)
12th January, 2018
Biography, Drama, History
Academy Awards
Best Actor (Oldman), Best Hair & Makeup
Academy Award Nominations
Best Film, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design
Oldman's performance as Churchill is supplemented by his astonishing transformation through makeup and costume.
Oldman's performance as Churchill is supplemented by his astonishing transformation through makeup and costume. | Source

What's to like?

A lot of drama films can feel slow or uninvolving, often due to the lack of a decent narrative hook. Thankfully, that isn't the case with Darkest Hour which puts Churchill in the unusual position of being an underdog who somehow overcomes the odds (portrayed by his peace-seeking political opponents) and comes good in the end. In the UK, Churchill has become an almost mythical figure - the embodiment of British war-time spirit and fierce defender of the nation in the face of seemingly unstoppable Nazi aggression. What the film does is show Churchill as a man plagued by doubts, beset by problems on all sides and struggling to repay his wife Clemmie who has found herself trapped in a loving but flawed marriage.

Unsurprisingly, the film belongs to Oldman who utterly transforms himself into Britain's war-time hero - not just due to the makeup and prosthesis but by adopting the man's mannerisms and speech. It's reminiscent of Eddie Redmayne's uncanny portrayal of Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything (coincidentally also written by McCarten) and while Oldman's performance might feel studied and controlled, it's certainly good enough to justify his Best Actor Oscar and the many other recognitions he earned in the role. He's also well supported by the likes of Dillane and Mendelsohn but I felt the film gives the two female leads only half a story to grapple with. Thomas and James provide some heartbreaking moments in the film but the obsession with Churchill means that we don't see them enough or finish off their character arcs which provide some relief from the heavyweight politics going on in the War Room.

Fun Facts

  • Oldman spent a year studying Churchill and his mannerisms including his fondness for smoking cigars. Oldman later revealed that he smoked up to 12 cigars a day during the shoot (about £30'000 worth) and developed nicotine poisoning.
  • The film marks the final screen appearance of Benjamin Whitrow who passed away before the film's release at the age of 80. Since the start of his career in 1963, he was most famous for playing Mr Bennett in the BBC's adaptation of Pride And Prejudice and voicing Fowler in Chicken Run.
  • Oldman is the sixth actor from the Harry Potter franchise to portray Churchill. Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Robert Hardy, Brendan Gleeson and David Ryall had all played Churchill on film or in TV movies previously.

What's not to like?

Unlike The Theory Of Everything, Darkest Hour takes plenty of liberties with the truth in its pursuit of reinforcing Churchill's legend and image of being the sole person in Europe determined to face Hitler head-on. Among those criticising the film's narrative are accusations that it was Clement Atlee and the opposition Labour Party's fierce resistance to Hitler and Nazism that played as an important part as Churchill's leadership as well as sources showing that most ordinary people were not that inspired by his speeches. The scene on the Underground specifically is often criticised for depicting Churchill as "a tube-travelling, minority-adoring genius" when the reality was quite different.

I didn't like the fact that the movie teases us with other stories for both Clemmie and Miss Layton but never stopped to examine them further. Churchill's neglect of his family and the impact of the death of Layton's brother (which, again, didn't happen) don't appear to have affected Churchill's thought-process whatsoever which is disappointing. But the most troubling aspect of the movie is its timing - in a post-Brexit Britain when division is rife and the country is still unsure of its relationship with Europe, Churchill's stoic nature and determination comes across as very pro-Brexit and reinforces the idea that we are better off on our own, etc. This is, of course, nonsense (I am a staunch Remainer because I understand how much damage Brexit will do to us as a country) but for those who believe in the abandonment of the EU, this film will go down better than a pint of warm bitter.

Thomas is one of two female leads - the other being James - providing decent support but neither get much of a look-in in terms of narrative.
Thomas is one of two female leads - the other being James - providing decent support but neither get much of a look-in in terms of narrative. | Source

Should I watch it?

It might be a bit stagey and definitely more fantasy than fact but Darkest Hour is a compulsive and absorbing film that rides the coat-tails of its incredible leading man's performance. It looks and feels authentic and benefits from some imaginative cinematography but it keeps the war at a safe distance while basking in Churchill's apparent greatness. But for all that, the film is still an enjoyable watch thanks to Oldman's amazing portrayal.

Great For: Brexit supporters, Oldman's Oscar ambitions, revisionists

Not So Great For: historians, female characters, lung cancer rates

What else should I watch?

Weirdly, Darkest Hour was one of two films released in 2017 that featuring Churchill in office. The other - Churchill - starred Brian Cox as the titular character in the run-up to D-Day, the 1944 Normandy landings which changed the course of World War 2. However, that film would be ultimately overshadowed by Darkest Hour and most critics were unimpressed. Other cinematic outings for the former Prime Minister include the 1964 documentary The Finest Hours and the somewhat scattershot comedy Churchill: The Hollywood Years with perhaps the least convincing actor to play the role, Christian Slater.

McCarten is on something of a roll at the moment. After finding success with The Theory Of Everything and this movie, he followed them up with another semi-biographical film with an Oscar-winning performance at the centre - Bohemian Rhapsody follows the rock band Queen from their formation to their stand-out performance at Live Aid in 1985. Rami Malek won the Best Actor Oscar as Freddie Mercury just as Oldman had the year before although the film was also criticised for a number of historical inaccuracies. His next film - The Pope - is due out later in 2019.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Benjamin Cox

    Soap Box

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • profile image

        Pat Mills 

        8 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

        Another one to watch is Dunkirk. I know it doesn't include Churchill, but that movie seems to continue the WWII story where Darkest Hour ends, though I know Dunkirk had the earlier release.These Oscar-nominated Best Picture efforts were among the better films I saw in 2017 and early 2018.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)