Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Darkest Hour: Movie Review

A mini-roller coaster of boorish, comic and political statesman.
As Joe Wright has done in all of his previous films, particularly the period pieces such as Anna Karenina and Atonement, he perfectly captures the style for the setting. In Darkest Hour, it’s a sepia-toned British Parliament, with a hundred men all wearing black suits shouting about their ineptitude to stop the German advances of World War II. It’s May 1940, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is about to resign and Britain, and the world, need a new leader to help them defeat Hitler. 2017

Directed by: Joe Wright

Screenplay by: Anthony McCarten

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas

There’s an odd contrasting quality to Winston Churchill in this film – I wanted to say contradictory but Churchill would have had multiple sides to him and Wright has purposefully decided to show most of them. When we first meet him he’s shuffling about in his bathrobe eating steak, eggs and whiskey for breakfast in bed, yelling at his secretary as he rambles off all of his important ideas and then belly to the floor as he’s talking to his cat hiding under his bed. Definitely comedic, but not necessarily the expected style for this film. Politics can certainly be funny, war less so, and it’s not that the comedy doesn’t fit, it just takes you a bit out of the crisis.

A winner of the Nobel Prize, a defender of human rights, and one of the greatest political minds of all time is a boorish, mumbling everyman. You can’t really fault the film when that sentence is actually pretty accurate. Gary Oldman handles those conflicting sides with ease. He’s louder than everyone else around him even when he’s not saying anything. When you step back from the film you realize in awe that a complete portrait of an interesting man has been accomplished in just 2 hours of a 1 month period.

It’s the one month leading up to the evacuation of Dunkirk. Where Churchill most excelled as reconciling the needs of the people and political realities. There’s a solemn moment when he sees a picture of his secretary’s brother lost in the war, and even she doesn’t know what’s going on, let alone everyone else in the country. Which leads to a very entertaining scene where the Prime Minister of Great Britain rides the tube and takes the words of random people back to Parliament. I have no clue if that’s real or not, but it doesn’t matter because you want to it to be real.

Behind Oldman as Churchill, you have some pretty incredible performances that have gone unrecognized. Kristin Scott Thomas stars as his wife, a strong woman who perfectly combined the heart that Churchill occasionally seemed to be lacking and a more reasonably-toned level of humour. Lily James played his secretary – a woman who was terrified of the man but grew into her own version of a strong woman by the end. Stephen Dillane was the scheming Halifax, a political opponent not ready to give Churchill the time of day, and ultimately Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI who combined the traits of all who came before him: terrified of Churchill, but confident in who he was, and through humour came to accept him in the end. The same mini-roller coaster as Darkest Hour.