Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright, offers a delicately handled, impeccably acted, stunningly shot piece of cinema, that shines a revealing, powerful light upon one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, during one of the most impossibly difficult times in the country’s history. But it is also more than just one man’s resolve during a challenging time politically and personally; it is also a beautifully shot film, that takes the time to shine a spotlight on aspects that were affecting a time in British politics that was filled with fear and doubt. I was positive walking into this film that I would see something great and I was not mistaken, so let’s explore all that Darkest Hour achieves and how it went about doing it.
Set during the early stages of World War II, the British government ousts previous Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain – portrayed by Ronald Pickup – and appoints Winston Churchill – portrayed by Gary Oldman. But this decision is met with resistance and reservation, so Churchill must stay true to what he believes right and fight on. This sees him to not only having to contend with the ever-advancing threat of Nazi Germany, but also the members of his own party who seek to have him follow in the footsteps of Chamberlain and be ousted from the position.
It is of course Gary Oldman’s performance where I must start my review, and I doubt it will come as much surprise when I say that he is faultless in the film. Oldman is one of the most diverse and talented actors to tackle the craft of acting. He is someone who is infinitely respected and praised by his peers and he is also an actor who can disappear into a role; whether it is physically transforming himself (I have to praise the make-up department for the fantastic job that they did with the prosthetics) or by completely altering his voice, so that his original accent is something he struggles to find again, after completing multiple projects in a row (which was an issue that he actually faced). Yes, he doesn’t always pick the best projects (the Robocop remake for example) but he is an actor with an incredible body of work, and now Darkest Hour is a part of that.
It became a common occurrence that I would forget I was watching Gary Oldman play Winston Churchill and simply saw Churchill there on-screen (which was also the case for my friend, who I went to see the film with). This film is further testament to the abilities of Gary Oldman as an actor, and it doesn’t come as much surprise that he is sweeping the ‘Best Actor Category’ at each award show; an accolade he more than deserves.
Beyond the performance by Gary Oldman comes a detailed and honest feeling look at the larger than life character that was Winston Churchill. Though not as deep as I wanted, I did enjoy the moments between Churchill and his wife, Clemmie – portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas – and it was in these moments that I felt the heart of the man was truly on show. Getting a glimpse into the more personal side of Winston Churchill was something I was intrigued by and I enjoyed what this film offered in that respect. Again, the film didn’t dive deep into it, but I was happy with what I got and felt it was handled appropriately.
Of course, it is the political side of Churchill’s life that dominates the film (and rightly so). What I really liked, was how it didn’t shy away from showing that his early days in the position weren’t without struggles. He was a man who was largely disliked by his party and who had very little to no faith in his ability. It’s a side to the story of Winston Churchill that I feel many don’t know about or consider. I, like many others, assume that he walked into the position of Prime Minister and got things moving – made unchallenged decisions that put things on a track that would see Britain being the first substantial opposition to the seemingly unstoppable Nazi occupation of Western Europe. But that very much wasn’t the case, and I found it to be enlightening and interesting to explore that – despite knowing how it would all inevitably play out.
The struggles that Churchill faced and the constant opposition that he was met with weren’t things that angered me, they were aspects to the story that informed me and at points I felt were fair criticisms. I found it refreshing to see a film not paint the man as infallible; to show that he had failings in his character and that it wasn’t all perfect. It’s far more interesting to show all sides to someone – especially someone as beloved and respected as Winston Churchill (a man, who like many other brits, I infinitely respect).
And I feel the film visually communicates Churchill’s lack of allies brilliantly. Cinematographer, Bruno Delbonnel (someone I’ll be talking about more in a little bit) constructs some very vivid, potent shots that highlight just how alone and without support Churchill was. On top of the excellent performance by Gary Oldman and the very tight, unencumbered script by Anthony McCarten; there is a film that utilises the medium of film (a visual medium) to perfectly communicate the struggles for Churchill, rather than just telling us them outright, through clunky, expository dialogue.
But this isn’t a doom and gloom film that beats you down with the many hardships faced in that time. Darkest Hour is actually quite a humorous film, at times. Winston Churchill in particular – with his very frank way of talking to people – delivers some bitingly funny lines that cut through the fluff of a conversation and say what needs to be said. I, and the audience around me, were chuckling many times, and of course at other times being moved by the potency of a particularly powerful scene (usually involving one of Churchill’s incredible speeches). It’s a mixed array of emotions that the film elicits, and it makes for an entertaining, moving experience.
And Darkest Hour doesn’t rest on its laurels and let the performance by Gary Oldman and the magnetic allure of Winston Churchill see the film over the finish line. It boasts a tremendous supporting cast who all shine in their own way (Ben Mendelson, as always, being a particular favourite of mine). And it is also a film that is meticulous in its detail and is lit and shot in the most beautiful of ways.
Director of Photography, Bruno Delbonnel did an outstanding job at making this film more than just a flat, uninspiring historical drama. The tool he utilised best was lighting; at times it’s as if the light is fighting to get into a scene – to be able to illuminate a room. I found it greatly communicated the dark, foreboding time Britain found itself in. Whether it was Buckingham Palace or the House of Commons, light seemed to be something that couldn’t break in, which gave the film a really moody, unsettled atmosphere. Then when you couple that with some subtle, yet effective sound design – sounds that echo through a scene and compliment the atmosphere – you have a film with an unavoidable presence to it.
But the movement of the camera contrasted the moody, unsettled feeling in Britain at the time; with director Joe Wright never allowing the camera to get out of control. Slow, deliberate movements keep a sense of calm in the film, like it is emulating the unbreakable spirit of the British people in war-time. What this all does is take what could have been a very plain telling of Churchill’s initial time as Prime Minister and elevates it to a much more atmospherically engaging and enticing experience; one that I was entranced by and full of respect for.
Director Joe Wright and the talented team around him brought all their expertise and unique offerings and helped to produce a truly memorable film that stands out from other similar types of films. Also as someone who lives in the U.K. (Scotland to be exact) and has never tiered of reading, watching and learning about Winston Churchill; Darkest Hour is another great addition to the storied career of one of Britain’s greatest ever Prime Ministers and more than that, one the greatest Brits to have ever lived.
I absolutely recommend, Darkest Hour. This is one of those experiences where, if you live in Britain, it will fill you full of pride, and if you don’t, will still offer you a fulfilling, entertaining experience that will still undoubtedly stir some emotions within you. Also, a fun little thing you can do after watching this film is the watch Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (as that historical event plays a major part in Darkest Hour) and then you can go onto watch the 2017 film, Churchill (which chronicles his contributions, in the lead up to the Normandy invasion). You have plenty of great films to go and watch and I hope you enjoy them all as much as I did.
I’d love to know your thoughts on both the film and my review of it, so please leave any opinions, feedback, etc. in the comments section down below. It would also be great if you could follow both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. I’ll bring my ramblings to an end now and thank you for taking the time to read my review and I hope to see you return. Have a great day!