Saturday, 20 January 2018

Darkest Hour Film Review

Darkest Hour is the third of the WWII films I've seen over the year, along with Churchill and Dunkirk. This directed by Joe Wright, and starring of course Gary Oldman as Churchill. It is interesting to compare Brian Cox's Churchill performance, but it is Gary Oldman likely to win the Oscar.


The film explores a three week window counting down to Churchill's famous speech prior to Dunkirk.



But first I must say that Churchill, as the son of a Lord, and grandson of a Duke, was part of the aristocracy, and schooled at Harrow. And he would not have lapsed into an East End accent. No matter how much he got down with the people of London on the tube. Accent aside, Gary Oldman seemed far too sprightly for Winston's 66 years.

But otherwise the film was a cracking piece of cinema. Ronald Pickup's Neville Chamberlain and his famous 'peace for our time' speech rather ending his career, when a year later Hitler marches into Poland. The opposition is prepared to work with the government after receiving this terrible news, but only with a new Prime Minister. The fourth son of an Earl, Viscount Halifax, played by Stephen Dillane, is keen, but not ready to take on the PM's role yet he says. Which only leaves one man. Oh no the assorted all groan, not Winston.

Winston you see is not universally liked. His new secretary scarpers after he admonishes her for typing single, instead of double spaced. But Lily James's Elizabeth Layton, when handed an expected telegram from the Palace, sees an opportunity to be part of history, and takes it back into Winston's home. Upon opening it Winston finds he is invited to meet with King George VI.

Nor does King George, played very well by Ben Mendelsohn, like Churchill very much, and would have preferred Halifax. Historically it seems that Churchill wanted his brother Edward to be allowed to marry Wallis Simpson, and thus remain King. Given Churchill's dislike and Edward's obvious like for Hitler, this seems a rather odd situation. Especially since Churchill warned of Hitler's increases in war preparation during the 30's.

But Winston accepts the invitation to form a government, and the excited family all move to Downing Street. Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill both admonishes and comforts her 'pig' Winston throughout. But there is genuine tenderness. And lots of alcohol.

Meanwhile if the War Cabinet thought that they would be able to cajole Winston into playing along with their scheme of brokering a peace with Hitler, through Mussolini, then they were mistaken. Tremendous Samuel West as Anthony Eden, provides support to him, if not always agreeing with Winston.

Jumping into action as PM, a flight to France is arranged to assess their situation, and reveals to Winston that they have no plan, and no contingency. And when Belgium and the Low Countries fall to Hitler, all eyes turn to Dunkirk, where our 300,000 men are massing. A late night phone call to David Bamber's Admiral Ramsay sets in motion the fleet of little boats that will attempt to bring back our men.

The scene of the battle scarred French landscape cleverly merged into the freckled and dirt smeared cheeks of a dead young soldier, reminding us of the urgency and severity of Winston's task. And a poignant reminder of Winston's disastrous Gallipoli campaign that saw tens of thousands dead. Never far from the politicians' memories.

When arguing his intention to not give in and sue for peace with Hitler, we see Winston finally phoning Franklin Roosevelt, and begging for help. But of course we didn't get US help until Pearl Harbour. The best thing that could have happened Churchill acknowledged at the time. But in 1940's London, that was a long way off. And instead a little known Calais barracks is mobilised to draw the German fire away, while we can rescue the men from Dunkirk. But there will be no evacuation for the men in Calais.

Meanwhile Winston agrees that Halifax and Chamberlain can make inquiries into a peace with Germany, but knowing in his heart that is wrong. And with hindsight, as we watch Europe fall, it does seem that Britain's politicians were suggesting we take the cowardly option.

But Churchill's rhetoric is to never surrender, and Gary Oldman chomps through the cigars and scenery as he railed against his cabinet. Much has been made of Winston's imagined tube journey where he meets the people. But they say they will fight rather than surrender, and inspired by the working man and woman, he invites the opposition and outer cabinet to hear his speech, before he addresses the House.

It's difficult to add urgency to a history that's so well know, but my nitpicking aside earlier, Gary Oldman completely inhabited Winston Churchill's baby face, and gave him new life. Joe Wright's direction adding an extra layer to the well worn story. And Lily James, willing him to do well, watches nervously from the Gallery, as Churchill rises from his seat to give his famous inspiring speech.

He plays a blinder of course, receives tremendous support from the Opposition, and achieves a game changer. Plot spoiler alert; the men are saved at Dunkirk and we go on to win the war.

But the question now is who will win the Oscar? And that's the real pot boiler.



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