By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
Strangely converging film subjects in one year is no new phenomenon in Hollywood.
For example, I’m not sure we needed two Truman Capote biopics focused on the exact same period of his career and personal life.
This year was the year of Dunkirk for whatever reason, and between Dunkirk, Their Finest, and now Darkest Hour, we’ve achieved that rare phenomenon where Hollywood hasn’t duplicated, but rather beautifully complemented itself.
Darkest Hour focuses on Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) in the barely more than two weeks between his assumption of the role of Prime Minister from Neville Chamberlain and the imminent defeat and miraculous evacuation of Dunkirk.
What makes these films such thrilling companion pieces is that each of them focuses in their own aptly adapted style on a different aspect of the remarkable history of the Dunkirk evacuation. Yes, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk puts us frighteningly in the midst of it all, and Their Finest does an equally excellent job of showing what it meant to the common people on the ground through and despite the propaganda made about it, and now Darkest Hour shows the extraordinary toll on and incredible resilience of Churchill and British leadership facing most the most uncertain and direst of straights- the loss of the entire British army with Hitler’s hordes breathing down their necks. Imminent defeat, and nothing less.
I’m happy to report that Joe Wright is back more familiar Atonement territory, and it’s clear that he’s comfortable there. This is an exquisitely directed feature, full of his signature inventive viewpoints lensed by a new cinematographer for him, Bruno Delbonnel. In particular, they make evocative use of a recurring God’s eye view of the battlegrounds and teeming masses below, which serves to establish the life and death stakes in a film that mostly takes place in parlors and palaces.
On the acting front, Oldman is unrecognizable, both due to that utterly flawless makeup work (don’t listen to any haters- this is stunning craftsmanship) and due to his utter habitation of one of history’s most recognizable figures and voices. He locates the real man, full of doubts and past failures that may not appear to others to affect his risk tolerance but which are very much a part of his considerations. That he only has a single Oscar nomination and no statue to his name is a wrong that appears close to being rectified. The supporting cast is no less excellent, in particular Kristen Scott Thomas as his perhaps even stronger-willed wife and Lily James as a young typist who as a different, quieter strength, as well as a less showy but for my money even more impressive depiction of King George VI by Ben Mendelsohn than Colin Firth’s Oscar-winning turn.
Finally, Anthony McCarten’s screenplay is perfectly paced to show the ever tightening noose Churchill and his nation faced, the real doubts that made even Churchill consider seeking peace terms with Hitler, and the encounters and inspiration he drew in making his most famous of speeches in the darkest of hours. Bravo.
Darkest Hour depicts just that for Britain, but also the extraordinary and ordinary man who helped rally the incredible resilience of the British people to weather it.
Darkest Hour (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Sip: whenever Churchill does
Take a Drink: whenever he lights a cigar
Do a Shot: for every historic speech