Review: Darkest Hour
Set during Winston Churchill’s troubling first few weeks as Prime Minister, Joe Wright’s biopic starring Gary Oldman is a stylistically bold, immersive portrayal of one of the most important eras of British history.
The film starts by putting great emphasis on the unpopularity of Churchill’s premiership amongst fellow MPs and King George VI, spurned by a deep distrust through his strategic errors at Gallipoli and support for Edward VIII’s abdication. This recurring trend of men in suits exchanging cross words and plotting to undo one another could easily become tedious, but Wright ensures that events tick along in hasty enough manner to avoid any sort of political scheming monotony for the viewer. The striking cinematography at hand also helps to maintain a riveting experience: cameras are thrust into the centre of a dramatically lit and incredibly boisterous House of Commons; they follow a purposeful Prime Minister striding through claustrophobic corridors of cabinet war rooms, soundtracked by the refrain of frantic typewriters; and in one particularly gripping scene we follow a Luftwaffe bomb cascading onto a regiment of British soldiers left behind on Churchill’s orders.
If you haven’t seen the Darkest Hour yet, you will no doubt have heard the hype surrounding Oldman’s performance, and yes – it is superb. From behind the prosthetic jowls, he manages to brilliantly present two contrasts of personality the wartime leader was often found to flit between: the bold, bulldog-spirited champion of the people and the crushed, weary loner. It is the during the latter representations that the film feels at its most genuine, when the frailty of the widely-accepted greatest Briton of all time is exposed, warts and all, leaving an elderly man sat solemnly in darkness and staring into space following the heartbreak of Dunkirk.
There are, of course, moments of sheer falsehood, too; as if the coverage given to the stirring speeches, numerous funny quips and moments of tenderness shared with his wife (played brilliantly by Kristin Scott-Thomas) and secretary (Lily James, who is initially presented as an important character but quickly reined in) wasn’t enough to reflect Churchill as quite great enough. A particularly hammed-up scene which shows him catching the tube to gauge public opinion is meant to be heart-warming, a metaphorical suggestion as to how he was at one with the people during these times. But, frankly, it smacks of condescension and quite unnecessary further idolisation.
Overall, Darkest Hour offers an interesting, if not slightly embellished, insight into British politics during WWII and the mental state of the country’s famous leader. Don’t expect much in way of a reliable history lesson, but if you’re after striking shots, assured performances and heartening examples of plucky Britishness, you won’t be at all disappointed. It is sheer, unadulterated Oscar bait.
Exposed watched Darkest Hour at Cineworld Sheffield