People have WWII on the mind these days. In the course of six months we’ve had Dunkirk, that Churchill film starring Brian Cox – and now we have Darkest Hour, yet another film about Winston Churchill. But, to be fair, all three of them have proven to be good films. Not to mention completely different from each other, despite the subject matter. If this is a resurgence of WWII films though, I’m not one to complain. There’s a lot that you can tell with that tragic period of history. Darkest Hour, in that does have an edge. The story of Churchill does have the potential for great film making.
Despite being a historical film, Darkest Hour does play fast and loose with events to tell a more dramatic story. What it attempts to chronical is Churchill’s rise to power within his parliament. Neville Chamberlin has been forced out of office and Viscount Halifax has refused the post of Prime Minister. Therefore, the role falls onto Churchill, possibly the most hated political member of his party. He gladly takes up the position – his goal is to end the war and Hitler’s tyranny. The problem is that Britain appears to be losing the war, and Halifax is leading a campaign to sign a peace-treaty. It is here that Churchill must fight for what he thinks is right, while doubting his every decision along the way.
This is a period piece. It’s period piece directed by Joe Wright, a man who has proven many times that he has a good eye for such films. This is the director of Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and the action film, Hanna, after all. And yes, he also directed Pan, which remains to be one of the worst fantasy blockbuster’s I’ve ever seen, so it’s not a clean record. Here, Wright brings his keen eye for visual and audio storytelling. This is an exceptionally well directed and shot film. There are nice and calm images, with some haunting ones dotted around. The one that sticks to my mind is an aerial shot of craters from bombs in a field, which that seamlessly transitions to a mud-covered corpse with bloody, dead eyes. Better was the use of sound. When Churchill is trying to make a decision under pressure, you hear all the little noises – the ticking of a clock, the distant voices of people, the rapping of a ring on a desk – and you start to feel the stress that he is under too.
It does help that Gary Oldman is playing Winston Churchill. Oldman is one of the best actors working today and is, once again, almost unrecognisable as Churchill. And no, it’s not just because of the make-up. That was a little distracting at first, but you quickly stop noticing it. He got everything that everyone knows about the man down perfectly – from his drooping lips, “unique” manner of speaking and constant smoking of cigars, of course. He fit the role very well. He is with a cast of great actors, such as Kristin Scott Thomas, as Churchill’s wife, Lily James, Stephen Dillane and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. All bring their A-game and none disappoint. Even though, Dillane and Mendelsohn do have the odd accent slip from time to time.
Where the film may falter is in that inaccuracy issue. Despite telling the overall story how it was, the film does get a little muddled in the details. This is usually only an issue for those who look for such things – which I don’t unless it’s just blatant disregard, such as Braveheart or Apocalypto. My problem with it is that wanting to tell a dramatic story, but also wanting to stick to the historical events does muddle things a bit. There are plot threads that just go nowhere. The most obvious of this is when Churchill calls the President of the USA. Not only was this made up but it adds nothing to the story at all. It also means that some events that did happen, and were of great meaning, sometimes get overshadowed by those that didn’t happen.
Whatever Darkest Hour’s narrative shortcoming, it’s still a great film and well worth the watch. It’s a slow burn to be sure, but it burns bright enough for me. The inaccuracies may leave some moments feeling a little jarred. But, accepting that this is a romanticising of the heroic actions of one man, you can still find enjoyment and interest in it. It’s probably not the kind of film I would watch twice, or at least not for a while, but I’m glad I saw it the once.
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