Darkest Hour (2017) is director Joe Wright’s newest film. It’s a biopic that features Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) during the early days of World War II when he becomes the newly appointed Prime Minister. His rivals, former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), don’t agree with his stance on the war and believe that a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler is in their country’s best interest. Luckily, Churchill is surrounded by more than just sharks looking for blood. His new assistant Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and his ever faithful and encouraging wife, Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas), are there to support him when times get tough, which seems constant.
Darkest Hour is captivating and visually stunning
This kind of movie could be extremely boring and feel disconnected from the audience. However, Wright is able to craft a visually engaging film that humanizes these iconic political figures during one of the world’s toughest times. There is a moment that Wright frames Churchill going up in an elevator. The entirety of the screen is dark other than the well-lit elevator that moves from bottom frame to top to then cut directly behind showing how isolated Churchill is feeling in that moment. It then cuts to inside the elevator and behind Churchill as the doors open and he emerges focused on his task. There are dozens of great examples to pull from this film that demonstrates Wrights ability, but this one really stuck.
Of course, Oldman has a lot to do with the humanizing of Churchill. He gives an amazing performance and the amount of emotion that comes through the prosthetics he’s wearing to help better resemble the man is impressive. As the pressure mounts that is a scene where he is dictating to Layton, but he finds himself at a rare loss for words. He’s stuttering and his mumbling becomes completely incoherent. The character has so much frustration and fear in this scene and, for the first time, he is doubting they can come back from what Nazi-Germany is taken and threatening to take. This scene is only shadowed by a much more uplifting scene where Churchill takes the subway rather than his normal car to work so that he may elicit information from the people.
There are some minor issues with the film. Both Clemmie and Layton have moments that feel unfinished. Clemmie declares at one point that “we can’t pay our bills,” and this seems like it was the start of a subplot that never gets developed any further than this. Layton’s role initially seems like it will be the audience’s entry point into the world of Churchill, but she is often not in many of the scenes. The movie doesn’t truly focus on her relationship with Churchill, but it does imply how valued many of the relationships Churchill has been to him.
Darkest Hour would be an amazing companion to watch alongside Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Before this year I knew little of that event, and after watching these two films I feel like I’m quite an expert. This film brought me to tears at one point and had me on the edge of my seat multiple times. Not to mention the number of times I was taken by the visuals that Wright had crafted. Darkest Hour earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.