Winston Churchill seems, just recently anyway, to be enjoying a resurgence. In that he has been portrayed in one movie or another several times over the past year. I see the appeal of course, with Britain in such a dire state now, many people would rather look back on a time when it seemed we were achieving something, even if that time was during a war.
Of course, Churchill is not the hero he is very often portrayed as, he himself is responsible for the deaths of millions of Indians in what many would consider a genocide, not that any movie would ever tell you this for fear of backlash from the nationalist right, who see Churchill as a hero of the highest order, despite copious evidence to the contrary.
Anyway, once more we go back to the mine of the Second World War in search of a great movie.
It is a time of great unrest in Britain, the threat of a German invasion is becoming more and more realistic, and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shoulders the blame for Britain falling behind in the war. This leads to the appointment of Winston Churchill, a politician with many detractors within his own party. Not long after his appointment, the British Army is in a seemingly inescapable quandary and the pressure is on Winston to save the war effort.
Over 70 years after WWII ended, it is still seen as a narrative goldmine by moviemakers, as barely a month seems to go by before we slip back into the familiarity of the Second World War. Not that I’m complaining, my favourite film of 2017 was a WWII focused film, so there is definitely room to impress.
Speaking of Dunkirk, this movie can almost be a companion piece to that movie. It’s set during the crisis at Dunkirk and large chunks of the film are dedicated to saving those trapped on Dunkirk, so in that respect it’s interesting to see this as a telling of the same story but from a different perspective.
Apart from that though, I’m sad to say Darkest Hour didn’t thrill me in anywhere near the same regard as Dunkirk. It’s another one of those films that’s difficult to review, as it’s perfectly functional as a film, even on the cusp of being something truly great, but doesn’t seem to ultimately satisfy when it comes down to it.
A lot of this could be the familiarity of it’s setting, the opposite side of the coin to what I said a few paragraphs ago, some of it I feel is that it’s a story we seem to have heard a thousand times and as a result isn’t nearly as tense as it tries to be.
Of course, even a film we all know the conclusion to can be a tense experience if the movie does enough to draw you in to the drama unfolding on screen, but this, more often than not, doesn’t. The plot meanders a fair bit during the middle portion of the film and then delivers an entirely predictable and tired conclusion.
One of the movies saving graces, however, is Gary Oldman. Oldman is a tenured veteran of Hollywood, capable of carrying a movie on his performance alone, while I didn’t think the movie was ‘carried’ by Oldman as it did have it’s highlights, but the plaudits for Oldman are entirely deserved. If you allow yourself to the entirely engrossed in what’s going on on-screen then you could forget that it is Gary Oldman you’re watching, and could be forgiven for thinking it was a documentary featuring the actual Churchill.
Elsewhere, performances are functional but seem to be massively overshadowed by Oldman’s mighty performance, I found a few more highlights were Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI and Ronald Pickup as Neville Chamberlain. Again it’s difficult to pile praise upon them when they have to share the screen with Oldman’s performance but had he not been there, I feel they would have received higher praise.
In conclusion, Darkest Hour is a perfectly acceptable, if not entirely thrilling, showcase for the talents of Gary Oldman, it achieves what it set’s out to do but doesn’t do anything more than that.