Movie review: The Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour — Running Time: 2:05 — Rating: PG-13
When Winston Churchill became England’s Prime Minister in 1940, he was already an accomplished man. He had served his country in the Military during World War I and had received a Nobel Prize for literature. He ascended at a time of political chaos and controversy as his country watched Nazi Germany absorb Europe. It certainly was England’s “darkest hour.”
This movie brings that dark period to life under the hand of director Joe Wright and a cast of fine actors who literally drop us into the government chaos as England faced imminent attack on their own country after the fall of Europe. As the movie opens, we watch the superb actor Gary Oldman begin his portrait of the complicated Churchill who is wrestling with both the dissension in Parliament and his own unpopularity.
As Churchill works toward his ultimate refusal to surrender to Germany, we watch him explore his position and write it out with the help of his trusted typing assistant Elizabeth Layton. She is played by Lily James with beautiful serenity and depth that cover her own fears. The rest unfolds in the explosive atmosphere of the angry Parliament and in periodic appearances by Churchill’s wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) who knows exactly how to support her husband and prod him forward.
Director Wright and his cameramen roam the halls of power in the relative safety of the dark underground world beneath London. He focuses on the angry chaos of the decision makers — Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). In answer to Churchill’s plea for help, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers the depressing message that America has signed neutrality agreements. In a strong scene, Churchill boards a subway to learn how British citizens are feeling about surrender versus battle. They reinforce his instincts.
Atop this atmosphere, Gary Oldman is outstanding. With padding and jowls that make him thoroughly credible, Oldman has been fashioned into a genuine look alike for the prime minister, a stroke that allows viewers to sink thoroughly into the 1940 reality the movie is presenting. Oldman gives us all the twists and turns of Churchill’s unique self as he wrestles with the options under debate by his peers. This brings to life that narrow slice of history when England stood alone against Germany and paints the rise of Churchill as he takes on his opponents and ultimately sets the future course of England and Europe.
The historical time, the place, the story — all are beautifully done; but it is Oldman who slips into that complicated time with a deeply thoughtful creation of one of history’s most crucial players. When he snarls, “You can’t reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth,” it says all that needs to be said of England’s dire situation. Director Wright is not afraid to allow long pauses as emphasis for complex and important statements. Or as Churchill’s opponent says, “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”
— Reviewed by Joan Ellis

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