Darkest Hour
dir Joe Wright
scr Anthony McCarten
prd Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Douglas Urbanski, Anthony McCarten, Lisa Bruce
with Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, Samuel West, Ronald Pickup, Richard Lumsden, Nicholas Jones, Jeremy Child, Hannah Steele, Brian Pettifer
release US 22.Nov.17, UK 12.Jan.18
17/UK Focus 2h05
Darkest Hour
I've got your back: Scott Thomas and Oldman

james dillane mendelsohn
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Darkest Hour A chronicle of Winston Churchill's first month as prime minister in May 1940, this film perhaps should have been titled Never Surrender, as that's the tone of his bullish reaction to the growing threat of a German invasion. It's a beautifully made film, produced to high cinematic specifications. And Gary Oldman gives a thunderous performance. But it also feels somewhat dry and repetitive.

As Hitler advances into Western Europe, Britain loses confidence in Prime Minister Chamberlain (Pickup), and Churchill (Oldman) is the only candidate who unites the parties. But he elicits controversy by stubbornly refusing to negotiate with a tyrant. His wife Clementine (Scott Thomas) offers steely support at home, but King George (Mendelsohn) is a bit more wary. Meanwhile, he's breaking in a new secretary Elizabeth (James) who is more than a little intimidated by Churchill's sudden mood swings. And then there's Lord Halifax (Dillane), who is determined to stop Churchill's intention to take military action.

Wright directs the film with his usual visual expertise, including clever camerawork and a lavish attention to design. He nicely recreates iconic locations, although most scenes are discussions in the somewhat dull war cabinet bunker. Thankfully, the focus is on the relationships, with lively and pointed conversations between Churchill, his wife, colleagues and political rivals, plus a brief visit to France and a phone call to America. This highlights growing tensions, the huge stakes and Churchill's resolve.

Oldman brings plenty of fighting spirit, transformed by strikingly realistic prosthetic make-up to play the then 66-year-old with a spry mind, cranky demeanour and creaky body propped up with whiskey and cigars. He's larger-than-life, of course, and Oldman reveals witty details in every scene. Each actor around him is excellent, finding clever angles on his or her character. Dillane has perhaps the most thankless role as the requisite relentless antagonist.

Perhaps unintentionally, the film also offers insight into the arrogance that accompanies Britain's tenacity. Churchill's attitude is reflected in the public: "We would rather fight and die than compromise our sovereignty." And indeed, the real battle hadn't yet begun at this point in time. But then, in 1940 Britain had it's empire to back this up, and it's clear from the Brexit vote that this same attitude lingers even now, when it isn't as justified. In other words, the movie eerily points out and kind of celebrates the way people delude themselves about their countries, then go on to win wars.

cert pg themes, language 11.Nov.17

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