A Movie Review
of Darkest Hour (2017)
By Lance Zedric
“Never surrender! Never, never, never give up!” is the mantra of Hollywood’s latest biopic, Darkest Hour, based on the first month of Winston Churchill’s reign as PM (prime minister) of the United Kingdom in May 1940, following the removal of tender-pants Neville Chamberlain, the Conservative Party PM long remembered as the great appeaser who met Adolf Hitler in Munich in September 1938 and returned proclaiming to a nervous world that he had achieved “Peace For Our Time” by giving him Czechoslovakia for assurances of peace, only to see Der Fuhrer do an about face and plunge the world into the most horrific war in history (pay attention—might be a quiz later).
The film believably captures the desperate period when the seemingly invincible German juggernaut had smeared Poland, crushed Belgium, iced Norway, occupied France, cornered the British army on the beaches of Dunkirk, and was primed to invade England. All seemed lost. Enter Churchill; the eccentric, boozing, outspoken former First Lord of the Admiralty, who had been disgraced for his failed Gallipoli campaign in Turkey in 1915, but who had hung around on the fringes of government and had redeemed himself with his reappointment to that post at the beginning of World War II. His redemption was complete when Chamberlain resigned and appointed him PM.
With more danger, intrigue, and plotting than a Byzantine cocktail party, the film centers on the initial and somewhat specious resistance that Churchill encountered from Chamberlain, foreign secretary and PM wannabe Edward Wood (Lord Halifax), and even from King George VI of England. It also posits a surprising sense of defeatism shared by some in government (Chamberlain & Halifax) who suggested that England sue for peace to avoid being invaded, a sentiment that was ultimately squashed by Churchill, and dramatized in the movie by his famous House of Commons speech in which he galvanized British resolve by famously saying, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.” Hence, the juxtaposition of the film’s title.
With invasion of England imminent and the fate of Europe in the balance, Churchill was the man for the occasion. Or so it seemed. Contrary to his public persona, Churchill was at times riddled with self-doubt and indecision, and actor Gary Oldman, wonderfully portrays the fragile human side of the man while conveying the humor, quirkiness, tenacity, and oratorical genius of one of the great figures of the 20th Century and arguably the most popular Briton of all time. He masterfully captured, with the help of extraordinary makeup, the essence of a man who symbolized the dogged determination of a nation standing almost alone against Hitler in a time a great peril, and his tour de force performance will likely garner an Academy Award—or at least a nomination. But one Oldman, does not an entire film make.
Darkest Hour was entertaining for those who enjoy WWII history and for those who appreciate character acting at its best, but given the heavy subject matter and Anglo (non-American) perspective, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But still, it’s a bugger of a good film!