DARKEST HOUR: A movie that is essentially about a speech. Britain has done it before – to great success – with THE KING’S SPEECH (2010). Have they done it again?
Unlike THE KING’S SPEECH, which featured the all-too-easy-to-feel-sorry-for King George VI, our hero in DARKEST HOUR is the less likeable Winston Churchill. Set during the early days of World War II, Britain faces its darkest hour as the threat of invasion looms. As the seemingly unstoppable Nazi forces advance, and with the Allied army cornered at Dunkirk, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the leadership of the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (played brilliantly by Gary Oldman). While manoeuvring his political rivals, Churchill must confront the ultimate choice: Bow to the pressure of his war cabinet and negotiate with Hitler, or rally the nation and fight on against all odds.
Like most political dramas, DARKEST HOUR is a ‘slow burner’. With a lot of talking and little action, it’s not a genre for everyone. However, director Joe Wright (PRIDE & PREJUDICE) has worked hard to make it as accessible as possible, negotiating the potentially dry content well. The narrative has its flaws – after all we already know that Churchill eventually gets his way, and we know how the war ends! As such Wright, and screenwriter Anthony McCarten, present the film as more of a character study….hence the genius casting.
The power of this film lies in the performance of Gary Oldman as “big man Winston”, and Kristin Scott Thomas as his loyal wife. With lesser talents steering the cast, this flick could have been…well….boring. Thankfully Oldman presents a highly likeable, and often comedic performance, despite Churchill ultimately being a stubborn, crude and naturally alienating individual.
As to be expected in Wright’s work, DARKEST HOUR is visually stunning. The use of light and shadows is inspired, and the quality and accuracy in capturing ‘the look’ of the period is impressive. The cast and crew have done all they can to present a potentially “ploddy” film in as engaging a fashion as possible.
In keeping with the spirit of Winston Churchill himself, (who liked to say things straight), I can sum up DARKEST HOUR in a few words: Brilliantly acted, beautifully shot, bit slow, bit long. I rate it 7.5 stars.