Review – Darkest Hour

Most of us don’t need a history lesson to recognize the name, Winston Churchill.  For those who do, Churchill was the British Prime Minister during WWII.  On the brink of defeat, Great Britain leaned on him to come up with a solution that would enable the Brits to defend its land from an imminent Nazi invasion during the early part of the war.  Despite many in Parliament and his inner circle believing Churchill should concede to the Nazis and engage in peace talks with Adolf Hitler, Churchill stood firmly against doing so, and insisted he would be the captain that would go down with the ship that is England, if defeat were to occur.

In the appropriately titled film, Darkest Hour, Churchill and his entire nation would face this grim time and be forced to play a risky hand in this war game.  With liberty at stake and life as they knew it hanging in the balance, Churchill and his nation must decide if morality and native pride are more important than making a deal with the devil to stay alive.

I appreciate history, but I would not call myself a historian by any means.  With that said, Darkest Hour gives the audience several valuable history lessons – particularly audiences outside of Great Britain.  There’s something about watching an event play out in front of you through the scope of filmmaking versus reading about it in a textbook that enables historical events to hit home more poignantly with the observer.

I always knew that the Nazi army had taken over several European countries on its march towards Britain, but I didn’t realize exactly how close they came to taking them down.  In the same way that Cuba and the U.S. came within minutes of engaging in a nuclear war in the early part of the 1960s, Britain was on the ropes big time against Hitler and his Nazi army twenty years earlier.  So much so, that the British civilians were preparing for bombing attacks and Nazi soldiers invading their streets to capture or kill those who stood in their way.  Darkest Hour does a nice job of capturing that fear amongst not just the citizens of Britain during this time frame, but even more so amongst the members in Parliament and even high-end military officials as well.

Another history lesson depicted in the film was the fact that Churchill was not well liked or admired by many of his counterparts.  He was often looked at as too old, snappy, and even incompetent.  I always remember him in my American textbooks as being a staunch leader loved by all, who joined forces with Franklin Roosevelt to take down the Axis of Evil.  In reality, while that ultimately is what ended up happening, director Joe Wright did a great job of bringing to light the fact that Churchill didn’t really care if he was named P.M. or not, and indeed was extremely rude at times to those around him prior to becoming the worldly hero history would qualify him to be.

Speaking of Wright, the British filmmaker delivered a film that not only provides valuable history lessons to its viewers, but also masterfully created a gray backdrop to a story that at one point faced a murky outcome.  I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but Wright often used dark, bland colors as the backdrop to most scenes of the film, which is brilliantly appropriate – considering the fact that it was a dark time in the UK’s history (and oh yeah, it plays off the title of the film, too).  Judging by Wright’s previous works, including PanAnna Karenina and Atonement – all of which are bright, colorful films, I’d venture to bet that the dark shades in Darkest Hour are no accident and simply a result of in-depth, smart filmmaking.

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In what may be a career role, Gary Oldman portrays Winston Churchill here as he gets Parliament fired up and ready to go to war in Darkest Hour.

Equally as brilliant is the spellbinding portrayal of Churchill by Gary Oldman.  Oldman, who himself looks nothing like Churchill in real life, is transformed through the art of amazing makeup into an exact replica of the former P.M.  After awhile, you just forget you’re looking at Oldman and subconsciously begin believing you’re watching Churchill himself.  Oldman is one of the best (yet still underrated, in my opinion) actors in the business, and certainly delivers an Oscar-worthy performance here.

A negative I will say about Darkest Hour, is the fact that it plays as a PBS movie at times.  I felt like some scenes were straight out of Masterpiece Theatre, and I was waiting for an intermission where random PBS fundraisers would try raising money from the audience by pitching to us WWII memorabilia to buy.

Another negative is the fact that the movie is a little long, but I wouldn’t say too long.  Some people may disagree with me, though.  I will agree with those who say it is very “chatty.”  There is a lot of high-level dialogue with thick British accents, which can be occasionally hard to comprehend.  Just when it gets climactic, the film’s denouement blitzes you suddenly, too.  I feel like a few minutes from the middle of the film should have been cut to allow for more minutes placed at the end that could’ve provided a better, more suitable sense of closure.

Overall, I recommend Darkest Hour for both history junkies and regular moviegoers alike.  There are two scenes in particular I will take with me from Darkest Hour.  One being a phone conversation between Churchill and Roosevelt in which Roosevelt opted to keep the U.S. neutral and refused Churchill’s plea for help during Britain’s most dire time of the war.  Although we ended up joining the efforts against the Axis later on and winning the war for the Allied Powers, it was disheartening to watch it play out and recognize that it had to take us getting attacked to do the right thing.

The other powerful scene is one that most will remember this movie for as well – the speech Churchill gives to Parliament, stating that diplomacy with an evil regime is off the table and vowing that Britain will fight to the death, if necessary, to defend their country.  The dramatic speech itself may be enough to bring home a lot of gold hardware this award season for Oldman.

MATTER RATTING: 7.5/10

OSCAR SCALE: 8.5/10 (Best Picture, Actor, Production Design, Cinematography, Makeup, Original Score)

BY: CHRIS GUEST