“When will the lesson ever be learned?” says newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.” Hitler is the tiger. His invincible army, in the spring of 1940, has brought down The Netherlands, Belgium and, soon, will bring the fall of France. Churchill’s political opponents urge him to authorize peace negotiations with Hitler. Mussolini agrees to mediate. Churchill refuses. That’s the setup for the story of Churchill’s first month as Prime Minister.
Will Churchill yield to his opponents or can he persuade Parliament to reject appeasement? See “Darkest Hour” for the history-changing answers.
Gary Oldman is brilliant as Winston Churchill and will (you read it here) earn an Academy Award nomination for his leading role. Oldman disappears into his portrayal of Churchill. It’s a real tour de force. As wife Clementine — “Clemmie” — Kristen Scott Thomas is Oldman’s equal, trading witticisms and compliments with the man she loves. “Are we terribly old?” she asks. “Yes,” says Winston, “I’m sure you are.” “You are strong,” Clemmie says, “because you are imperfect. You are wise because you have doubts.”
Others in the excellent cast include Lily James as Elizabeth Layton, Churchill’s ever-patient secretary, Ben Mendelsohn as doubtful King George VI, and Ronald Pickup as former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Stephen Dillane and Samuel West are Churchill’s most vocal opponents, Viscount Halifax and Sir Anthony Eden.
“Darkest Hour” is great moviemaking from Joe Wright’s smart direction, Anthony McCarten’s script, evocative cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, to Dario Marinelli’s pulsing score. Its grainy and faded color suggest the 1940s, costumes and production design look like World-War II Britain, and Wright’s direction elicits first-rate performances from the cast. Is there anything not to like in “Darkest Hour”? Well, maybe the Third Act underground sequence where Churchill elects to take the Tube back to Westminster rather than an official car. He chats up his fellow passengers, shares their unshakable British pride and, with them, quotes lines from Thomas Macaulay’s patriotic poem “Horatius” —
“How can a man die better/Than facing fearful odds/For the ashes of his father/And the temples of his gods?” It’s hokey, but it gave me goosebumps.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, “Darkest Hour” runs 125 minutes. Its takeaway? “Never surrender,” as a Browns fan told me afterwards.
Oldman shines as Churchill;
“Darkest Hour” remembered:
World War II, Dunkirk — but
He never surrendered.