Darkest Hour is a British war drama directed by Joe Wright. The film stars Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James and Gary Oldman. The film is set during World War Two (WW2) and focuses on Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). We gain insight into his early days as Prime Minister and how he deals with the threat of Hitler and Nazi Germany as they close in on Britain after their ruthless conquest throughout Europe.
My Knowledge and Expectation of Darkest Hour
Since its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2017, Darkest Hour has been lauded by film critics. Indeed, the main consensus I have seen in the reviews for this film has been that Gary Oldman is terrific as Winston Churchill. In fact, even though Daniel Day-Lewis is involved in the race to win Best Actor as the Oscars, it seems as though Gary Oldman is a lock to win that award. Forget just being nominated, a win seems likely if film critics and pundits are to be believed.
I could not wait to see his performance as one of the most notable historical figures in British history. Certainly, Churchill is a man who has earned his place in history as one of the great wartime leaders. However, he is flawed and I wanted Darkest Hour to explore that. I did not want this film to be a fluff piece that is completely one-sided in favour of Churchill. I hoped Gary Oldman would portray Churchill in a way where we explore the positive and negative side of the man.
Still, while Gary Oldman has been the primary focus of critical acclaim, I was looking forward to see the rest of the cast too in the story that would be told. Interestingly, the story of Darkest Hour is based on subject matter that we have seen recently; the Dunkirk evacuation. Films centred around WW2 and specifically the Dunkirk evacuation seem to the norm these days. In 2017, we had Their Finest and Dunkirk and we now have Darkest Hour. I hoped the latter would be the best of those films.
My Thoughts on Darkest Hour
Sadly, I did not like Darkest Hour that much. It is an okay film that has a tremendous central performance by Gary Oldman. Make no mistake, he is awesome as Churchill. I have mentioned before about how one great performance can steal the film from the rest of the cast. In Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman does not just overpower the cast, he overpowers the entire film. For me, his performance carried a film which, as a whole, is quite boring and drab.
Indeed, I was yawning quite a lot during the film. Unless I am tired, this is not a good sign for the ability of a film to keep one hooked from beginning to end. The only thing that kept me engaged was Gary Oldman’s performance. After seeing Darkest Hour, I can see how deserving Gary Oldman is of his Oscar nomination for Best Actor. On the other hand, it completely baffles me how Darkest Hour got nominated for Best Picture over films such as Blade Runner 2049, Molly’s Game, Wind River and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The Humanisation of Churchill
Still, one thing that I strongly believe Darkest Hour does well is humanising Churchill. Certainly, notable figures such as Churchill take on a legendary status in history. However, we must not forget that historical figures like Churchill are still people and, as such, flawed. Darkest Hour portrays these flaws. I was happy that the film did what I hoped it would do; expose the strengths and weaknesses of Churchill. Darkest Hour is not a propaganda piece that portrays him as a God. Throughout the film, we see his doubts and insecurities which grounded Darkest Hour.
I also liked how, at certain points, we see black bars on frames/scenes of Churchill to illustrate isolation. These little touches were very important to showcase Churchill in a very human way. The relationship that he had with his personal secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) also humanised him. I found their interactions in Darkest Hour to be very genuine. I could connect to Churchill as a person rather than a historical legend.
My Final Thoughts on Darkest Hour
The humanisation of Churchill was something I did appreciate about Darkest Hour. However, the film as whole did not reach a level where I liked it. As I said, the film is quite boring. While Gary Oldman’s performance is awesome, it is not enough to save the film. Gary Oldman is the sole reason you should watch Darkest Hour. Nothing else comes close to the quality he shows in this film. He overpowers the rest of the cast and you forget about their performances. Without Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour would completely fail as a film.
The film does enough to be better than Their Finest. However, I did not like that film at all. Darkest Hour is not as good as Dunkirk. Dunkirk is a very good film but not the masterpiece some proclaim it to be. Darkest Hour sits right in the middle of these recent films that have been based around the Dunkirk evacuation. In the end. it is an okay film. Still, I will not deny that Darkest Hour has a brilliant performance by Gary Oldman which is deserving of the praise it has received.