Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James
Length: 2h 5m
Recently, TV and film have been rife with narratives covering the period of World War 2, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Jonathan Teplitzky’s Churchill, and Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest to name a few, perhaps due to Britain’s current state of political chaos, our desire to reminisce of our political past has increased significantly. Though this recurring theme could cause audience to lose interest in films covering said period, it clearly hasn’t dissuaded audiences from Joe Wright’s newest film Darkest Hour, set to take the box office by storm.
Joe Wright, acclaimed director of thriller Hanna and romance/war drama Atonement brings in his newest film a snapshot of Winston Churchill’s first days as Prime Minister and the threat of a Nazi invasion and the fate of Western Europe that hangs over his shoulders.
The film’s driving force is without a doubt Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill. Though not a strict impersonation of arguably the most famous British Prime Minister, Oldman succeeds in executing a nuanced portrayal of the famous character, and has certainly been getting deserved attention with his recent Golden Globe win. Ben Mendelssohn’s performance as King George also stands out, alongside Kristin Scott Thomas’ portrayal of Churchill’s wife, Clementine.
Though misleadingly described as a ‘biopic’, the film explores many aspects of Churchill’s life and mind in the first few weeks of his role as Prime Minister in a nuanced way. The screenplay, written by Anthony McCarten (whose most notable scripts include The Theory of Everything and Death of a Superhero), is superb in both heightening the sense of tension between Churchill and his cabinet and displaying Churchill as a true master of words. Though not rapid in pace, the film certainly succeeds in capturing the sense of urgency and extremity Churchill had to deal with in his darkest hour.
However, the narrative was perhaps too structured and rigid, taking the audience through the story day by day, creating a slightly repetitive feel. Overall, it feels like the film is almost more suited to being a play, it is rife with theatrical qualities, most notably seen in scenes set in the houses of parliament and intense dialogues between Churchill and his war cabinet. Despite this, there were short bursts of genius in Joe Wright’s cinematography, providing the film with nuanced intensity at times.
Overall, the film seems to present an honest picture of Churchill as man who, historically, had a flawed past in his political career and highlights the fact that Churchill was not the perfect candidate for Prime Minister. This truthful characterisation brilliantly adds to the film’s tone. However, a disappointing element of the film is its somewhat inauthentic representation in a scene that sees Churchill taking the London underground to engage with the commuters on whether or not Britain should plead for a peace deal with Germany or continue going to battle – a slightly farfetched situation.