The new movie about Winston Churchill’s rise to leadership in World War II could actually be a prequel to this summer’s Dunkirk. It is about the decisions made that led to Operation Dynamo. It could even be a bigger Dunkirk Cinematic Universe (DCU, not to be confused with DCEU). Churchill (Gary Oldman) makes a desperate call to FDR before the U.S. was involved with WWII. I didn’t catch the credit for FDR’s voice. What if it was John Voight and Pearl Harbor is part of the Dunkirkverse??? Darkest Hour could also connect to The King’s Speech but they’ve recast Ben Mendelsohn in the Colin Firth role. He’s the Don Cheadle of the Dunkirkverse.
As one would expect from director Joe Wright and producers Working Title Films, Darkest Hour is a well made portrayal of important historical events. Oldman naturally immerses himself in prosthetics and Churchill’s voice and mannerisms.
Wright does his best to energize what is essentially old British guys shouting at each other in parliament. There are overhead shots of World War II bombing campaigns that are so captivating they make you forget, “Wait a minute, who’s filming this? How did they get a camera there?” That’s how good filmmaking places you there.
Darkest Hour challenges the image of Winston Churchill as a noble leader. Behind the scenes he’s a Swimming with Sharks style tyrant to his new secretary (Lily James). He drinks for breakfast and rolls his Rs to make his jowls quiver as much as possible. Oddly enough, when Oldman delivers some of Churchill’s actual historic addresses, that’s when I found myself tuning out. Maybe it translates better in print.
Some of the humanizing moments feel a bit too precious. A sequence where Churchill rides the underground and meets the citizens of Britain may have happened, but coming where it does in the movie feels very cloying.
Still, as historical movies go, you know Wright is going to paint a portrait of history and Oldman is going to give a convincing performance as Churchill. That may be enough for history buffs, or to reach new generations. It’s not a defining movie for me but I respect it for making a living record of pivotal moments.