Thursday, January 4, 2018

Darkest Hour review

The Darkest Hour is about Winston Churchill's first days as Prime Minister. The war against the Nazis is going bad and France is about to fall. The plot is about the tumultuous days before the "battle" of Dunkirk. That's the engagement with the Germans where the British people in civilian boats rescued their army and hence allowed the fight to go on. Before the rescue, Churchill must decide whether to pursue peace as Foreign Secretary Lord Hallifax (Stephan Dillane) and former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) want or to fight on even if France falls.

There's basically one performance that we should talk about in this movie. And all due respect to the excellent cast. But it is Gary Oldman as Churchill. Wearing astounding make-up, Oldman is the Churchill we remember. Maybe not factually accurate but one that is poetic, irascible, doubtful, emotional and heroic. His Churchill matches the actual rhythm of the man while still imbuing more life if that's possible to his dramatic portrayal. When Churchill knows he's in the right and is going to fight, there's a swagger to his step. It's an Oscar worthy performance by Goldman.

I've complained that historical dramas may need some well, Hollywood license in how to depict the facts. Anthony McCarten's screenplay does a little of that. There's a scene where Churchill runs off into the subway to find out what Londoners thought of peace with the Nazis. It didn't happen but it's an emotional scene. But Churchill was known to talk to the common man at times. (The Heavy) So it's not outside of the realm. I think McCarten needed a scene where Churchill realizes that Nazism must be defeated at all costs. That would have helped. But I'm guessing that he assumes the audience knows that. I do like that the movie does not depict Chamberlain or Hallifax as bad guys. I could see where they were coming from in terms of seeking a peace agreement with Hitler.

The movie really takes off with the realization that France is going to fall and maybe Great Britain should sue for peace. Director Joe Wright (Atonement) stays out of the way of that drama. He frames shots to show that Churchill is one man with the forces of history putting pressure on him. That decision with all its consequences drives the film.

Darkest Hour has one of the best performances of the year from Gary Oldman. It's a nice companion piece to last year's Dunkirk. The grade is B Plus.

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