Darkest Hour is a wonderful historic picture on its own terms and an important modern allegory about standing firmly against encroaching tyranny.
I very seldom go to movies, as I almost invariably regret both the time and money I end up spending. Still, I was willing to take a chance on Darkest Hour and I’m awfully glad I did. It’s a wonderful movie, both on its own terms, and as an allegory for modern times.
The movie’s plot is relatively simple, unfolding over the course of a couple of weeks in May 1940. European countries are falling like ninepins before Germany’s amphetamine-fueled Blitzkrieg and Prime Minister Neville “Peace With Honor” Chamberlain has lost the confidence of his own party, causing him to proffer his resignation. Churchill, who had been sounding the tocsin about the Nazis throughout the 1930s, steps in as the new Prime Minister.
Viscount Halifax, who had earlier refused an offer to serve as PM, is nevertheless horrified that Churchill has the job. He, along with Chamberlain and George VI, are worried about Churchill’s explosive temperament, his unguarded utterances, and his history of bad decisions, beginning with the disastrous campaign at Gallipoli during WWI. Moreover, Halifax is the leader of those who think that England’s survival is dependent on a negotiated peace with Hitler. As the British Expeditionary Force comes ever closer to annihilation at Dunkirk, Halifax’s certainty about a negotiated surrender, which Chamberlain shares, infects the war room over which Churchill presides.
Although there are a few scenes in which Churchill does not appear, the movie focuses tightly on Churchill’s interactions with his wife, Halifax, Sir Anthony Eden, the King, and a secretary during the pivotal days leading up to the Evacuation at Dunkirk. Apropos the secretary, played by dewy, lovely Lily James, I am happy to say that she is not used for some trumped-up cheesy romantic farce. Instead, the secretary exists so that we can hear Churchill dictating his thoughts, especially his speeches. Churchill’s romance is with his wife, Clemmie, whose character benefits from a brisk, warm performance by Kristin Scott Thomas.
The standout actor, though, is Gary Oldman who is, quite simply, superb. He looks and sounds Churchillian, playing the role with a wonderful panache. The supporting performers are necessary props, and they all handle their roles with elan, but Darkest Hour is Oldman’s movie. [Read more…]