REVIEW: Darkest Hour (2017)

UK Theatrical Release Poster – Focus Features

The following is a review of Darkest Hour — Directed by Joe Wright.

Darkest Hour — not to be confused with The Darkest Hour, a 2011 alien invasion movie set in Russia — is the newest film from British director Joe Wright, who is behind such films as 2007’s beautiful, heart-wrenching, and soul-crushing Atonement

Wright’s Darkest Hour tells the story of Winston Churchill’s early years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, at the time of the Second World War. The newly appointed Prime Minister, Churchill (played by Gary Oldman), is seemingly set up to fail by the members of his war cabinet. They are biased against him.

It turns out there is more than just the war with Nazi Germany. He also has foes at the end of his own table. Even King George VI (played by Ben Mendelsohn) dislikes Churchill, and, thus, Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour has plenty of obstacles to overcome while the nation fears obliteration.

Do you like great big speeches? Do you like great women standing by great men’s sides? Are you fascinated by the Second World War? Well, then I’ve got a movie for you. Darkest Hour surely is the ‘Dad movie’ of the year. That is by no means meant as disrespect. I really like those movies too, and, as a matter of fact, I actually saw this movie with my father, who was so spellbound by the movie that one of the first things he said about it was that he would give it a score of, and I quote, “twelve out of ten.” He couldn’t have loved it more.

And it certainly is very good. You’ve got some genuinely strong performances from Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, and Kristin Scott Thomas. But this really just is a riveting acting showcase for a, for many, beloved actor. Gary Oldman always goes all the way, and sometimes he even goes over the top, which actually makes him absolutely perfect for a film about Winston Churchill — a historical figure that truly was larger than life.

I’ve never seen Gary Oldman this good before, and I’d agree with those championing the performance as one of 2017’s best. Even with all that make-up, Gary Oldman is, at once, both charming, electrifying, and compelling as Winston Churchill.

Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is a great political thriller set in a time of war, but it is, however, not as satisfying as I had hoped it would be. The film did, at times, feel more like a history lesson than a film. While the film does touch upon the complexities to Winston Churchill, I was slightly disappointed by how it didn’t dig deeper into his character.

I do also wish the filmmakers had opted to dig deeper into Churchill’s relationship with his family. Kristin Scott Thomas is very good as Clementine Churchill, and I think it might’ve been more interesting to focus on their relationship even more, instead of focussing on Churchill’s relationship with his personal secretary, Lily James’ Elizabeth Layton. But that’s neither here nor there.

Darkest Hour does comment on the fact that politicians may choose to deceive the people for the good of the nation. Similarly, the filmmakers behind Darkest Hour obviously do insert a fair bit of fiction into their fact-based story — that is, indeed, part of the game when you’re making these dramatizations — and some of these fabricated moments are painfully obvious.

One fairly inspiring and, indeed, timely third act scene takes place in the London Underground, wherein Churchill asks the people of London whether or not he should enter into peace talks with Germany and wave the white flag. It is an incredible scene that you can’t take your eyes off — so incredible, in fact, that it is an obvious fabrication that unsubtly tries to hammer home a timely theme.

Nevertheless, Darkest Hour is, when it works, a fairly compelling companion piece to films like The King’s Speech and, especially, Dunkirk, which I think Darkest Hour would work as a great introduction to. It is a big acting showcase for Gary Oldman, and his excellent performance does elevate the film immensely.

8 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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