Darkest Hour (2017): Intriguing Insight into the Mind of Churchill

Darkest Hour (2017): Intriguing Insight into the Mind of Churchill
courtesy of focus features

Darkest Hour (2017) highlights the brilliance and tenacity of Winston Churchill, one of the greatest men in history. This film focuses on the abrupt appointment of  Churchill (Gary Oldman) as prime minister of Great Britain after Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) had been ousted from his position during World War II. During the film, Churchill shows character of strength. He is tested and challenged by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), members of parliament, and his own inner conflicts.

The director of Darkest Hour, Joe Wright, is known for Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), Anna Karenina (2012), and other films, as well as the hit series  Black Mirror (2011-present). The film is produced by Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, and Douglas Urbanski. The distribution company is Focus Features.

Churchill's inspiration and determination to gain the trust of the people was unparalleled. At many points throughout his tenure,  he was highly scrutinized, but well established as the only suitable choice other than Lord Viscount Halifax, who becomes foreign secretary (Stephen Dillane). Clementine Churchill (Kristen Scott Thomas) is a rock that keeps her husband steady and sure in times of trouble. Winston Churchill's typist and secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), yields great introspect and encouragement for him because of her brother (a soldier), who eventually goes missing during the Battle of Dunkirk.

At first, Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax played a significant role as adversaries to Churchill's policies of continuing the war, even though they were a part of his War Cabinet. They appeared to be more of a thorn in his side and forced the objective of appeasement and peace negotiations with Italy (Benito Mussolini) and Germany (Adolph Hitler).

Belgium had fallen, France was on the brink of total seizure, and 300, 000 men were surrounded at the beaches of Dunkirk. Churchill had to make a decision to fight or retreat! The capture of Dunkirk (western front of France) meant the destruction of the whole British naval fleet, while leaving the island susceptible to attack by the Nazis. The British navy was eventually saved by over 850  civilian boats, called "Operation Dynamo". Would they give in to attacks and threat of ultimate defeat in the war? What would have happened if Churchill had backed down and entered into negotiations with Mussolini and Hitler? The world would have been a much different place. Churchill claimed that "entering into negotiations with Hitler would be futile." One of his most famous quotes in the film is "You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!"

Churchill exceeds his own expectations, while gaining advice from the people on how to proceed with his final decision on war or peace. The King provides a much needed final bolstering support of confidence for Churchill.  He states,“ We shall not flag or fail. We will never surrender.”

Both the cinematographer, Bruno Delbonnel and director, Joe Wright take us down a dark visual winding path for this story. Even though you know how its going to end. It is still a nail bitter. The use of shadows and black and white images is powerful, especially at the end. Writer, Anthony McCarten does a phenomenal job creating dialogue for such important intricate scenes. The score by Dario Marianelli was a nice background for climactic and intense moments.

Gary Oldman gives an exceptional performance as Winston Churchill, demonstrating the leader's consternation as well as strength, endurance, and courage throughout. He gives an Oscar-worthy performance portraying versatility and that he owned the character.

Overall, I felt this film was bit lengthy and dragged in some areas, but the story needed to be told. I would give this film 3 stars out of 4. It demonstrated a historical perspective of Churchill that I have not seen before. It catches him being catapulted into circumstance, vulnerable,  tried and tested in various aspects of wartime.

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