Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) has the been the focus of a multitude of films, television shows and stage productions. His impact on history continues to fascinate audiences around the world. Both his oratory gifts and his willingness to take political risks have left his legacy as infamous as heroic. At one of the most pivotal times in human history, the leader of the island nation took a stand against the Nazi onslaught when virtually no other country was willing to stare Hitler down.
Director Joe Wright (Atonement) brings the focus to the first month of Churchill’s tenure as the British Prime Minister. Beginning with the early days of his needing to work through the political minefield of determining his leadership in the shadow of the ousting of Nevill Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup). With no time for celebration, the newest world leader is forced to decide between trying to find a peaceful resolution to Germany’s imminent invasion of all of Europe or to choose to face the Nazis alone in the European conflict. He must quickly learn who to trust within the government, the military, his family and the monarchy.
It has been a year of Winston Churchill influenced films with Brian Cox’s thoughtful and methodical take on the British leader in Churchill to the power of his oratory skills delivered in conclusion to Dunkirk. Proving that this flawed, but fascinating man’s influence continues to ripple throughout history. Darkest Hour has been a passion project for writer Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything), and it shows in focus and drive in the script. His characterisation of Winston Churchill partnered with the acting abilities of Oldman were concentrated and masterful.
This dominant figure in history is shown to be brilliant, yet exceptionally flawed in his ability to work with others. Even with the glaring difficulties in his personal skills he made up in the ability to see what was best for the country. It was a fine line between showing how he balanced his immense ego with the full awareness of his apparent weaknesses. Joe Wright can portray the leader as calculating, but someone who was not afraid of taking exceptional risks with relationships and peoples lives. Each frame of the film focusses on Churchill and the impact of his decisions and how pivotal he was in the formation of the history of the modern world.
The singular focus of the film does labour under the weight of this character and the situations that he was forced to confront. Oldman can carry the burden, but the majority of the other characters become miniscule in their influence on the story. Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Lily James were terrific when they were on screen, but they were small stars orbiting the sun as the support for the central character. Wright did not waste their talents or any moment on screen, but seemed to live under the realisation that this film centres on Winston Churchill.
Darkest Hour is a familiar, but fascinating depiction of a linchpin portion of history. To focus on this dynamic leader is understandable and worth the price of admission and should garner a multitude of award nods in the coming season.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
Leadership: One thing that can historians have proven about leaders throughout history is that opposition is part of the process. In the Darkest Hour, the crucible experience that Winston Churchill experienced in the lead up to World War II was due to difficulties within his own country, party and mind. History shows that he made the right decision for the sake of the world, but this would not be evident until years later.
Most of the celebrated leaders throughout history may not be perfect, but despite their flaws, they are able to rise above themselves to impact history. In our current portion of history there seem to be few leaders to celebrate which forces people to look to the past for examples. A great example of an unassuming leader who rose the challenges set before him is a servant of a king who became the saviour of a nation. The story of courage, considerable opposition and the right man at the right time in history. Nehemiah's is a fascinating study of leadership and exceptional focus on achieving the goals set before him that rivals and possibilities exceed that of Winston Churchill. Nehemiah's story
Trailer for the film