Telluride 2017 “Darkest Hour” Review
The period of Winston Churchill’s rise to Prime Minister was filled with tension and apprehension as Britain stood at a crossroads during World War II and an advancing Nazi Germany. Darkest Hour tells the story of those tense few weeks that would impact the world for years to come. Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) was not the most likable and popular choice for Prime Minister after his predecessor Neville Chamberlain. Our introduction to Churchill in the film is a man in bed, in a robe, coughing and smoking his cigar. It is fascinating how they’ve transformed Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill.
The film catalogs the events from May 9th, 1940 to May 28th, 1940. During this time, the British army was trapped in Dunkirk. Winston had to fight against his party and the King to convince them to do what he believes is right; to take a stand and fight the advancing German army. On May 25th, Winston learns that the men are trapped in Dunkirk and calls FDR to see if they can help, but he is denied. This is when Churchill has no other choice but to order civilian boats to try to rescue the men trapped in Dunkirk. As the rest of Parliment pushes Winston to give in and have peace talks with Hitler, he continues to stand strong.
While Churchill is trying to come up with an appropriate solution, the rest of Parliment pushes Winston to give in and have peace talks with Hitler, but he continues to stand strong. Facing the death of many men, and the surrender of Belgium and potentially France, his faith waivers as he begins to tell Chamberlain and Halifax to begin the process of peace talks. The King visits Winston and renews his faith in fighting the war, and the next day Winston decides to meet the people of Britain and see what they have to say. In an emotional moment, he learns that people would rather fight than give up their homes. This moment inspires Winston to give a spectacular speech that ends out the film.
Winston Churchill is noted as one of the greatest speakers and writers that ever lived. His words continue to inspire the masses, and it is no small undertaking to make a film about him. The writing in the film is superb and the emotional moments hit spectacularly. With all the documentation, speeches, recordings, and videos of Winston Churchill, it must be overwhelming to take on writing the words for a man so well known for his eloquence in speech. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten is perfection. He tackled a daunting task with ease and gave us one of the best screenplays this year.
Gary Oldman’s performance is stunning and without a doubt will earn him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. He completely disappears into this role and gives it his all. Each word, mannerism and moment felt authentic and inspiring. Imitating a famous orator is intimidating, but Oldman does it with ease, skill, and perfection. His words inspire and invigorate the audience and leave you wanting more. Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI gave an excellent performance alongside Oldman. The other supporting actors were fantastic as well, but it was the Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill show. His performance was so inspired, that despite an almost two-hour runtime, you wanted to watch it again and again.
The cinematography in the film is spectacular. A lot of the time in period piece dialogue driven films like this, we don’t get dramatic or compelling imagery, but in Darkest Hour, we get the best of both worlds. Director Joe Wright gives us some fascinating scenes that add even more to the film. His focus on the smallest details add more depth to the film and making the environment even richer. There is a scene where Winston addresses the nation on the radio, and the room is filled with a red light that sets the mood for the scene. It seems like a small thing but makes all the difference in the scene. Wright doesn’t allow us to forget that all the words, speeches, and arguments are not only about politics but also about human beings, men on the beaches and stuck in trenches who are being killed and sacrificed.
There are a few scenes that illustrate this best. As Winston is talking about Calais and the soldiers there, we get a view of the barracks. A soldier is reading the telegram that they will not be evacuated as he walks past wounded men, dying soldiers, and frightened young men clinging to their rifles. The soldier looks up, and we zoom out to see the bombings, the chaos, and hopelessness of their situation. One scene they show a battlefield in France, and as Wright pans across the battlefield it is transforming into the face of a dead soldier with his eyes to the sky. Joe Wright doesn’t let us forget that it is not just words but about the innocent lives lost.
Darkest Hour is easily one of Gary Oldman’s best performances to date and a genuinely inspirational film. Despite a two hour runtime, the film is captivating as we see the Winston Churchill’s determination in inspiring a nation to rise and fight the Fascists threatening to take over their island. The direction, writing, performing and cinematography are top-notch and woven together to form a stunning film, sure to remind us that we cannot stand down against dictators, fascists and those who threaten our way of life.
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