I have a voracious appetite for anything connected to the Second World War. Documentaries (WW2 in Colour, Five Came Back), video games (C.O.D. WW2), TV Shows (Band of Brothers) and films (A Bridge Too Far, Inglorious Basterds, Flags of our Fathers etc) .
As so much of this kind of content is American-centric, it is refreshing to watch something from a British perspective where the U.S. are minor players.
This uniquely English take on Winston Churchill‘s installation in the Prime Minister’s office in May of 1940 and his subsequent rallying of not just a divided parliament but the nation, is an inspirational masterpiece.
Gary Oldman who has already won the Golden Globe for his performance in the lead role is deserving of every accolade available. He inhabits Churchill like a second skin bringing to light the humanity, humility and humour of the great man like nothing I’ve seen.
The supporting cast are exemplary from the PM’s wife Clementine Churchill (Kristin Scott Thomas) and secretary (Lily James as Elizabeth Layton) to Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI, and across the board this is a brilliantly performed piece of cinema. If you are a fan of The Crown, you’ll be in for a treat glimpsing some familiar faces.
Despite some moments diverging from facts, there are very few scenes that don’t feel 100% authentic. At one stage Churchill heads to the underground to ride the tube and connect with his people, and whilst there is no hard evidence that this actually occurred, screenwriter and historian Anthony McCarten confirms that Churchill was notorious for similar behaviour.
It is a key scene in the film and even though I thought to myself “this surely didn’t happen” while I watched, it still felt genuine.
That is an enormous feat, to be able to convince an audience of the authenticity of the actions of the main protagonist in an historical picture, while also telling an entertaining story, and the filmmaking team of McCarten (The Theory of Everything) and director Joe Wright pull it off flawlessly. It is a formidable combination of talent, especially when they are armed with the skills of Oldman, not to mention the phenomenal job the make-up team have done in crafting a visually stunning likeness of Winston.
Wright also happens to have directed one of my favourite Black Mirror episodes – “Nosedive” – and he seems to have a flair for depicting human frailty in exquisite fashion.
With the weight of the world literally on the Prime Minister’s shoulders, peering into Churchill’s personal life including his relationships with his wife and staff is extremely illuminating. He was just a man after all, but he was the right man in the right place at the right time to steer history in the required course.
It’s interesting that the other film out this week The Post, also deals with a delusional world leader (in Nixon), but there is so much more gravitas surrounding these events in England, with so much more at stake, that Darkest Hour feels like a much weightier film.
After watching The Post the previous day, my wife and I had to watch All The President’s Men as the perfect companion piece and it was remarkable to see the little Easter Eggs that Spielberg has put in his film as a tribute to the classic film.
After Darkest Hour we watched Saving Private Ryan (ironically by Spielberg) for a taste of the horror of the war raging during that era. Darkest Hour joins the ranks of essential historical viewing and is a must-see movie not just in this awards season, but for all time.
5 Stars – “Filmmaking at its Finest”