When Cristopher Nolan was making “Dunkirk”, he totally refused to introduce high politicians and army commanders in the plot. The director wanted to show how simple British men and women behaved during those terrifying days: soldiers, pilots, sailors, and citizens. This was a pretentious and touching story, which still remained uncomplete for those viewers who wanted to understand the “Dunkirk miracle” and the reason of its fame.
So, it was pleasant to know that another British director, Joe Wright, created a film about Dunkirk and showed its action through high cabinets and a secret bunker parallelly with Nolan’s movie. This is a film about making decisions that resulted into an exemplary evacuation and a well-known Churchill’s speech “We Shall Fight on the Beaches”, which sounds in final parts of both movies.
If Nolan turned “Dunkirk” into a film with many figures and several plot lines crossing with each other, then “Darkest Hour” is the portrait of one person who determined the fate of a nation. Of course, there are other characters in this movie, and they even have their own scenes without Churchill‘s participation. But the prime minister is in every frame, visible or not. If he does not speak, then they speak about him. Minister Halifax, previous prime minister Chamberlain, king George VI, Clementine (Churchill’s wife), his assistant Elisabeth: all of them do not have their parts, but shade Churchill, helping the viewer to look deeper into his soul.
What kind of portrait is that? Mainly, a complementary one. There are many things to blame Churchill for, and Wright does not hide his alcoholism, grumpy and wild behavior, egoistic political wavering, wrong decisions and many more. But this all is not made to humiliate Churchill, but to liven up and to humanize him, to make the gigantic figure of the prime minister closer to the viewers.
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Despite all his imperfections, weaknesses and strange features, Churchill from the movie was not a miserable selfish politician, but the leader the scared nation needed in the darkest hour. He was a brave and wise man who gave the required orders in the bunker, stood his ground in politics, and inspired British people in his speeches. And the movie demonstrates that Churchill’s words impressed not only simple citizens, but also higher politicians used to the serious words and knowing all the details of a difficult time in the country.
“Darkest Hour” was not written taking Gary Oldman into account, and the antagonist from “The Fifth Element” was unlikely to be the only candidate for this role. But the British actor literally related to the character perfectly (of course, professional makeup artists helped him greatly by turning him into Churchill). Oldman is able to convince everyone right after he appears in front of the camera for the first time, and then he impresses and wonders the viewers throughout the whole film. Things you can see and hear in “Darkest Hour” are enough to know that Oldman deserves his “Oscar”. He did a great job, reflecting all the sides of Churchill: from those he showed in public to those only the closest people could see. We can see bravery, decisiveness, inspiration of Churchill, but we can also notice his fear, despair and dark sarcasm, too. Decisions made by him in 1940 were not easy.
The action takes place in a dramatic half-light environment, totally correlating with the title. Windows are closed with black curtains as a rule, and lights are weak, creating sharp shadows. The British elite rooms barely looked like that during that time: that’s an artistic move, not the atmosphere of the epoch. Such visual style makes the movie look a bit theatrical, but still suits it. The real Churchill had the right to feel like an actor.
Unfortunately, “Darkest Hour” fails in culmination. Churchill, who can’t make the final decision, comes to the underground for the second time in his life and asks citizens for a piece of advice. They say that they are ready to fight till the very end. All of them.
This looks like a moment from a PR-arsenal of a totalitarian country, not the democratic one. Many British really thought like that, but the Kingdom was not united during the year 1940. It is silly to deny this fact.
All in all, “Darkest Hour” is a perfect movie for those who are fond of history, but it would not appeal to the viewers just willing to have a good time. Despite all the gloss and perfection of Oldman’s play, spending two hours in a company of British politicians is a quite specific satisfaction.