2018 in Cinema:
Darkest Hour, 2018
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn
There is a lot of talk about this film at the moment, especially with it being awards season, and most of them are being heralded at Gary Oldman’s feet, and it’s not hard to see why after seeing his terrific performance as the British Prime Minister during the Second World War. Shortly after Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is forced to resign from his position Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) is elected into the role (after Halifax (Stephen Dillane) rejected the position citing it being too early in his career) and Churchill, despite the opposition from his own party, and the opposition from King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One), tries to force through his view on how Britain should survive the war: by fighting. The politics in this film largely centre on Churchill’s pro-fighting stance versus the rest of his party who view a peace treaty should try and be negotiated with Germany in order to end the war.
As aforementioned, Gary Oldman is fantastic, but it’s not just him who shines in this film as everyone from Ben Mendelsohn to Stephen Dillane all excel behind him. It does help everyone involved that the script given to them helps them out a lot, too, as Gary Oldman’s Churchill is required to make a lot of grandiose speeches and morale-boosting lies to help the country moving forward. My only criticism with the writing is that there’s probably one too many of these speeches; his ministerial reign starts with one and there’s a couple in-between, so by the time we get to his final speech we’re a bit exhausted from them.
What impressed me the most about this film, aside from its acting that is, is how they refrained from having this film being a pro-British morale-boosting-film. It doesn’t end with the war’s victory, nor does it ever make out that Britain were winning; the majority of the film features Britain on its knees, desperately trying to find a way to just survive, let alone win. It was quite refreshing for a film of this type. However, there are a few issues I had. Firstly, the lack of implications and consequences throughout the film was largely disappointing. I completely understand it’s a political drama, so doesn’t necessarily need scenes of the war, but when they’re talking in their offices wearing their nice suites about how lives are at stake, yet not showing us any indication of this, it does take away some of the drama. Especially considering they have one beautiful scene where they do show us it. After the troops were stuck at Dunkirk Churchill had a plan for a smaller set of soldiers to draw fire away from Dunkirk, and in doing so basically condemning themselves to death. Then after Churchill realises he can’t retrieve the remaining few soldiers and sends a telegram, it cuts to them, battered and bruised in France, and the leader has to read the note and maintain a happy face despite the soldiers begging for help. The camera then follows the leader’s vision as he looks up until high in the sky when a bomb is seen dropping on them. It is a remarkably powerful scene, and when we see Churchill saddened over the incident, we feel more involved and more emotional ourselves because we’ve seen glimpses of those involved, this type of emotion is only shown few and far between.
Another brilliant scene shows Churchill in a bathroom begging for help from the Americans who cannot help for legal reasons. It really shows how Britain were backs to the wall and really knocks Churchill’s over-confident approach down. But there are also a few weird and out-of-place scenes, especially one with Churchill on a train (it’s a feel-good moment, but feels out-of-place based on the rest of the film’s tone and style). Gary Oldman is fantastic and it’s a very well-made drama, with a few beautiful moments joined with a few bizarre moments.
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