By Will Barber Taylor
Within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a sceptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.
1940 was this nation’s darkest hour. An hour in which Britain as we know it today would have been obliterated off the face of the Earth and our values consigned to the ignominy of defeat. It was a time when this nation faced one of the, if not the, greatest evil on this Earth and stood proud to fight it to the bitter end. Darkest Hour is the story of how, alone and weak, we managed to fight back against this evil. It is also the best representation of this fight we are ever likely to see; it is a film that is filled with humour, tragedy, wit and vigour.
Director Joe Wright, the man who brought Atonement to the big screen, shines in Darkest Hour; his opening shot of the House of Commons debate between Clement Attlee and Neville Chamberlain which brought Chamberlain down is beautifully lit and shows the full intimacy of the House in beautiful detail. Wright majestically balances intimate shots such as Churchill and his secretary, Elizabeth Layton typing up one of Churchill’s speeches and large, all encompassing shots of the British troops retreating from Dunkirk. Wright knows how to pitch his film and each scene is pitch perfect; from the comedy of Churchill’s first appearance or his meeting with George VI to the drama of Churchill seemingly giving in to Halifax’s demands or the rousing finale, Wright plays on his audience’s emotions perfectly. The excellence of his direction is sustained throughout the film and demonstrates, as he did in Atonement, what an excellent director he is.
It goes without saying that Garry Oldman’s Churchill is the best portrayal of the great man that has been put to film, certainly in the last few years and possibly ever. Oldman gives Churchill the determination, the strength, the wit, the bad temper and the humanity that the real man had in bucket loads. He brings Churchill’s oratory to life like no other, imbuing it not only with the same urgency that it would have had upon its initial reading but also the passion Churchill gave to all of his speeches. He is only matched in his impressive performance by Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine. Scott Thomas provides Clementine with a true voice, something which most depictions of Churchill’s life fail to portray. Scott Thomas gives Clementine a subtle strength, which explains how she was able to put up with Churchill for so long.
Darkest Hour, unlike what you may have heard from some more prejudiced critics, it a stonkingly good, imaginative, vibrant and powerful film that, though it may not be the most accurate portrayal of the Second World War, makes you feel how it must have felt in those dark days not only for Winston Churchill but for Britain and the world.