Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) teamed with writer Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) on Darkest Hour, a historical drama about Winston Churchill's early days as Britain's Prime Minister, and they succeeded where so many have failed: even though we knew the ultimate outcome, they kept us on the edge of our seats.  Curiously, this is the third of three Dunkirk movies released in 2017 (comedy-drama Their Finest in April, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk in July).  Darkest Hour chronicles the viewpoint of Churchill (a fabulous Gary Oldman) and drives home how dire the situation was--for the world, for Europe, for Great Britain, and for Churchill himself.  One of the many strengths of this film is Wright's and McCarten's ability to bring context and perspective to the cataclysmic events of May 1940 while rarely leaving Churchill's side.

It is early May, and British Parliament has delivered a vote of no confidence to the government of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), due to his appeasement of Hitler.  Hopes are high that Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) will pick up the gauntlet, but he argues his time has not yet come.  They strike a reluctant political decision to recruit Churchill, the only candidate to meet favor with the opposition, even though he is hardly in favor with his own party and, more importantly, with King George (Ben Mendelsohn).  Time is of the essence, though: Germany has overrun Belgium; France is falling; the Western Front is disintegrating so fast that over 300,000 British troops are trapped on the Dunkirk beach and may be driven into the sea before Churchill can mount an evacuation.

That is the macro.  The micro is filtered through Churchill's interpersonal relations, mostly with Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), his new secretary, whom he initially terrorizes but soon develops a fondness.  She is our British everywoman, and it is through her eyes we see the man's inner workings and thoughts as her nuanced expressions--frustration, pain, fear--mirror our own.  At home, his loyal wife Clemmie (Kristen Scott-Thomas), whose tart wit exceeds even that of her husband, buoys his spirit and cuts him down to size as the situation demands.  In the War Ministry, elder statesman Chamberlain quietly tries to temper Churchill's combative impulses, while Halifax is oppositional to the point of undermining the Prime Minister.  As each day brings Britain closer to the brink of destruction, Halifax urges peace negotiations with Hitler as brokered by Mussolini while Churchill rejects any and all solutions that smack of capitulation.  Through weekly lunch meetings with King George, Churchill grudgingly shares information.  For his part, the monarch, initially untrusting and somewhat cowed by his blustery PM, maintains a calm, objective distance.  Over time, that relationship develops, and at the darkest hour, when Churchill seems to have exhausted all options, a bit of simple, subtle wisdom from the King lights the path for Churchill.

Amid high profile Hollywood fodder, bombastic campaigns, hyped performances, and film festival darlings, Darkest Hour slips in unobtrusively, taking a modest nibble out of the holiday box office.  With uniformly excellent performances across the cast, cinematic authenticity, and compelling narrative, our regard for this film increases upon reflection.  This is Gary Oldman's finest hour; inside remarkably invisible prosthetics, he becomes Churchill, and very well may garner that elusive but richly deserved Oscar.  Lily James continues her impressive roll; if she had the benefit of Margot Robbie's aggressive publicists, she would be among the favorites for Supporting Actress.  Ben Mendelsohn's subtle perfection of the King's speech, is among the year's best Supporting Actor performances.  Bruno Delbonnel's Cinematography gives a strong feeling of place and time.  Add Dario Marianelli's score, the film's Production Design, Costume Design, and Makeup/Hairstyling, and the senses rush to 1940 London to a most vivid darkest hour.

9.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
8.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale


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