If ever there was a feel good movie about Winston Churchill, the Oscar nominated film Darkest Hour would be it. A story about Churchill’s travails during arguably the lowest point in the war, the film lifts up the viewer giving us an intimate, moving, intense, sometimes somewhat historically inaccurate story about Churchill’s rise to fame that made him a household name, even today.
Directed by Joe Wright and starring Gary Oldman, in the performance of his career as Churchill, which won him the Best Actor award this year, Darkest Hour will hold you rapt (even if you know the outcome of events), riveted by Oldman whose every moment on screen is as precious as gold.
Wright’s direction has always had style, he is the director of Atonement (2007) among others, and his sure sense of visuals brings this film out of what could have been the boring confines of a biopic. As a result, we have a carefully put together film that tells the story of the crisis that Britain is plunged into when the entire British infantry was cornered by the Germans, their only refuge being the beach at Dunkirk.
As hinted by the title, the situation is dire: three hundred thousand men, and with them Britain’s only real hope of defense against the Germans, are left stranded at Dunkirk, the then Conservative Party Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is forced to step down for being too soft on the Nazis, and the Conservative Party’s only viable candidate turns out be Winston Churchill, a man who, at the time, did not command the respect he does now due to his track record of errors at Gallipoli, and his stance on India.
The film portrays Churchill’s struggle through a nightmarish moment in Britain’s history at a time when defeat and massive loss of life seemed imminent, and even while we know they come out of it, it is still nerve-wracking to watch these events unfold, almost felling the new Prime Minister with each new development.
How Churchill perseveres, aided by those closest to him including his wife Clementine (Kristen Scott Thomas), and his secretary Elizabeth Layton, played by the lovely Lily James, who takes dictation and transcribes his now famous speeches, gives us the effect of seeing into his innermost life, even while it is mostly fictionalised, bringing us to a greater understanding of this character who clearly had his flaws but was perhaps the only person who could have helmed Britain through World War II, with his particular pugnacity, perseverance, thick-skinned carelessness, and extreme loyalty to king and country.
Do not expect a bore of a film just because you think you know the story. Once you start, you are in the hands of a master, one that will make you feel you know this famous man, and want to become friends with him, indulging his voracious appetite, and even his little fibs because to be great means to have flaws and to overcome them.