The biopic, Darkest Hour (directed by Joe Wright), follows Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) through his early days as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. As the film begins, “Peace for our time” Neville Chamberlain’s (Ronald Pickup) disastrous policies have come home to roost, Hitler is threatening all of Europe, and Chamberlain is forced to resign as Prime Minister. Unpopular among his own party but considered acceptable to the Opposition, Churchill is summoned by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) to become the new Prime Minister.
Darkest Hour is primarily a character study of Churchill, and Oldman clearly relishes the role and fully immerses himself in it. He gives the audience an admittedly flawed Churchill, hopelessly politically incorrect by current standards, who nevertheless possesses a passionate loyalty to the British Empire and an unbreakable determination to see the British people through what seemed an almost hopeless situation at that stage of the war.
The Nazi invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France immediately confronts Churchill as he assumes his new responsibilities and faces both the physical threat of the German advance and political threats from within his own government. Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), convinced that a negotiated peace is still possible, plot to remove Churchill as the German tanks tear through France and the British army is forced into retreat. In Churchill’s corner are his wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his secretary Elizabeth (Lily James) to provide often needed moral support.
The film is beautifully shot and conveys a feeling of grimness and fear, from the claustrophobic War Room where much of the political action takes place to the street scenes of Londoners trying to go about their daily lives. It evokes a strong visceral reaction and leads the audience to share the dread. For the last half of the film, it is easy to forget that the allies do eventually win.
Darkest Hour culminates with Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” address to the House of Commons and the evacuation of the British forces at Dunkirk. It is a timely reminder that the British once had backbone, and that unshakable resolve and determination to do whatever is necessary in the face of overwhelming adversity can eventually lead to triumph.
Overall rating: 7.5/10