By Tim Connelly (Wilmington, NC)

 

Darkest Hour isn’t just a terrific film; it’s like having a bird’s eye view to one of the most significant moments in world history. Director Joe Wright is able to take us from the comfort of our theater seats to the time and place of Adolph Hitler and his quest to take over Europe. He is able to create both the terror and complacency that is found in a Britain that recognizes how dangerous Hitler is but would still rather negotiate than fight with him.

The film centers around the time where Churchill becomes Prime Minister even as Britain must decide whether to fight Hitler or surrender to him.

The role of Winston Churchill as played by Gary Oldman is one of those transient times when an actor becomes the character and we understand, empathize with and feel all the fears, doubts and inadequacies of the character yet come away admiring him all the more. Give Oldman his well-deserved Oscar but don’t stop there – chalk this role up as one of the 10 greatest cinematic roles ever and give him a place beside the truly immortal thespians.

A word or two about the screenplay: Anthony McCarten did an amazing job of moving characters in and out, of giving them just enough to say to make them 3 dimensional and the heroes and villains come across as authentic people who tried to be true to themselves and their own point of view.

Churchill isn’t portrayed as someone who knew how things would turn out; he knew better than anyone that fighting Hitler as unprepared as Britain was would likely end up in a bloodbath with England soundly defeated. Chamberlain isn’t portrayed as a weakling with no gusto or courage; he genuinely didn’t like war and tried desperately to avoid it and by the time he came around to the inevitability of it – realized England had no chance of winning.

The mood that Joe Wright created was always perfect. He allows us – no, forces us to become a part of the set – walking down the street with the citizens, riding the underground with the smell of war everywhere, being trapped in a suicide mission and riding the boats to rescue those trapped at Dunkirk – it was a marvelous achievement in story-telling.

There were other exceptional roles. I almost feel bad calling the actors by name because these weren’t actors in a movie, these were the real life characters in a fast paced documentary. At least that’s how it felt. I loved Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln but in a similar role, capturing a small window of time in the life of a great figure – Oldman’s Churchill was far more compelling.

Lily James was amazing as Elizabeth Layton. Her role could easily have been dismissed because the script really gave her nothing of real importance to do. But she added layers to Oldman’s role that would have been missing without her. Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane as King George, Clemmie Churchill, Neville Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax respectively, were all amazing. This movie should not only be studied for its achievements in motion pictures but in its character study of courage, judgment and leadership.

Rating: 5/5

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