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Darkest Hour (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Darkest Hour


Starring Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Kristin Scott Thomas, Samuel West, Jordan Waller, Beatrice Stein, Ronald Pickup, Nicholas Jones, David Schofield, Richard Lumsden, Malcolm Storry, Hannah Steele, Charley Palmer Rothwell, Anna Burnett and Jordan Waller.

Screenplay by Anthony McCarten.

Directed by Joe Wright.

Distributed by Focus Features. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Do you know the saying that good things come in threes? Well, 2017 has been the year for World War II movies.

The King’s Choice, the Norwegian foreign language film detailing the three days prior and including Nazi Germany’s invasion of Norway, is focused on Norway’s King Haakon VII and the powerful, yet fruitless stand he took for his country. Dunkirk was a sprawling cinematic wonder covering the miraculous rescue/movement of the British soldiers trapped on the shores of Dunkirk by the mobilized Civilian boat owners.

And I am happy to report that Darkest Hour (unintentionally) completes this trifecta of World War II films, starting after Norway’s fall (along with Denmark, Poland, and Czechoslovakia), and including the dramatic events that led to the heroic Dunkirk rescue, while focused primarily on Winston Churchill, the very unlikely hero statesman of Britain and the world.

Darkest Hour takes place over 19 pivotal days in Britain’s history – May 10-May 28, 1940. The movie highlights the major events that take place during this perilous time period, from the removal of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, to the seemingly inevitable invasion of the Nazis.

In the end though, this is a biography, dripping with powerful history, focused on Winston Churchill and how his bold choices, anchored in his country’s tenacious spirit, led to the turn of the tide for Britain and the war.

Winston Churchill was 65 years old in 1940.  He was an all-day whiskey drinking, cigar smoking, edging on gluttonous workaholic who put service to his country ahead of his family. He was brash and dramatic with an unmatched ability to speak and write.

He is renowned for quotes like: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” And “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

He had a bull-in-the-china-shop personality that did not win him favor with any members of his own party. He was a man whose career was pained by his choices, good and bad.

My daughter requested to see this movie particularly to watch Gary Oldman in the colorful, larger than life role of Winston Churchill. She was not led astray. His portrayal of the legendary statesman was uncanny – from his mumbling to his walk to the glimmer in his eye.

Most importantly, he captures the humanity of a man rebounding and forever haunted by the disastrous war campaign at Gallipoli 25 years earlier, which prepared and shaped his future choices. The man, who, when backed into a corner by his trusted statesmen, took the time to speak with his countrymen and then stood up for their country’s freedom.

Kudos to Kristin Scott Thomas for her strength, grace and wit portraying Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine Churchill, the anchor and counterbalance to her husband’s grumpy, boorish nature. Lily James’ performance as Churchill’s young secretary, Elizabeth Layton, was vulnerable and charming, a better matched role for her than the love interest, Debora, in Baby Driver.

I will be surprised if Kazuhiro Tsuji does not get an award nod for his makeup artistry that reportedly led to four hours in the makeup chair every morning for the transformation into Churchill. I will be left speechless if Mr. Oldman does not walk away with multiple awards for his performance.

My daughter and I both strongly recommend Darkest Hour for its history, humor, and intensity. Though we all know how the story ends, the most exciting part of Darkest Hour is watching the details behind how it all happened.

Bonnie Paul & Leni Paul

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: December 15, 2017.

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