Darkest Hour: 2017 PG-13
I am an admitted history buff. I love history movies that propel us into the moment of key events that have helped shape humanity as we know it. Being given a first person insight of key historical figure mindsets as well as seeing the impending issues they grabbled with has always made for true movie drama.
Often times, history tells the tale from the winner perspective, and leaves out many of the dramatic details that led to these great events. We see through the camera lens that our main characters were not gods, but ordinary men and women thrusted into almost impossible situations where they became extraordinary. Darkest Hour is no different.
It is May 1940. Hitler is on a rampage conquering most of Europe. His next target is the British Empire. The Nazi army has overrun France and British forces into a pocket around Dunkirk. Gary Oldman plays the newly elected Prime Minister, Winston Churchill who is tasked with the job of stopping Hitler. With the Nazi’s literally in his backyard, Churchill is under pressure from his King and country to negotiate peace. Churchill shows his vigor and steadfastness by resolving to fight Hitler “on the beaches, in the fields, and in the streets.” Churchill speaks to the public regarding his plans telling them they will have “Victory at all costs, Victory in spite of all terror, Victory however long and hard the road may be, for without Victory there is no survival.”
Oldman is absolutely masterful in his portraying of the great Prime Minister. We see through his eyes how his King, Political party and confidants saw Churchill as an embarrassment and lackey. They knew he was a great orator, but nothing of a politician. They hoped that his negotiation skills could woo Hitler into letting England stay as an independent country with their surrender, and thwart any more bloodshed.
Churchill was burdened with the undaunting task of sacrificing one four-thousand soldier garrison or the entire British army of 300,000 men trapped in Dunkirk. This garrison would draw the fire of the Nazi’s, sacrificing themselves in the process. This would give the British army time to escape Dunkirk and avoid having to surrender to the Nazi forces. Simply put, it was either Peace or War. That is the decision this great man had to make. “When will we learn the lesson? You can’t reason with a tiger when your head is in it’s mouth!”
Churchill eventually gets the support of King George VI and Parliament to execute his plan. In a great scene on the train with the common people, Oldman is brilliant in conveying Churchill’s desire to know what the people think he should do with the impending Nazi invasion. He goes on to tell the public that “lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.” In his famous speech to Parliament he mentions every person he talked to by name, recalling their “Never Surrender” beliefs.
Oldman shows the softer, second guessing personality that is not often seen with Churchill. He has always been seen as a liquor drinking, crass, hard man that never wavered in his beliefs. Director Joe Wright does a terrific job in using Churchill’s wife Clementine to portray this softer side. Clementine is played by Kristen Scott Thomas. She does a tremendous job of making the audience love Churchill the way she has always done. “I want them to love and respect you as I do.” Their relationship is seen as a beautiful respectful marriage, where neither could survive without the other. She is his rock and support system. As often seen in history, behind the great man is a great woman he depends on.
The Curtain closes on this great film with Oldman delivering Churchill’s famous speech to the House of Commons in Parliament. Upon its completion, Churchill (famous top hat on and cigar in his mouth) stomps out of the room to uproarious applause and papers parading all around him.
If Oldman does not win the Academy Award for this film it is a tragedy. His performance is one for the ages. This film will be considered for many awards this season, including best picture and best actor. This is easily one of my favorite fact based history films of all time. I give it a 4 out of 4 stars. A must see for all and an instant classic that can be summed up in one word… Victory.