Frank Farley, PhD
Review of Darkest Hour
Director: Joe Wright
Darkest Hour is essentially a docudrama with Hollywood cachet. Its an actors’ movie, focusing heavily on speeches and interactions among forceful political and military figures in close quarters. It documents the drama preceding the Battle of Britain, and the incredible power of Prime Minister Churchill’s personality and ultimate decision to wage war over impossible peace in the face of Nazi advances in Europe. The future of the West literally hung in the balance. If Britain fell, following the collapse or eminent collapse of all major European nations at that time, the world would never have been the same. But by dint of Churchill’s incredible force of personality and risk-taking, Britain stood almost alone against the horror. The film depicts the scant help offered at that time by President Roosevelt. It shows the inspirational help ultimately given by the King, following his initial skepticism concerning Churchill’s admittedly quirky cigar-chomping, boozifying, bed-loving character and his politics!
The acting is superb by all the major players. Gary Oldman’s tour de force as Churchill certainly warrants every acting accolade, including an Oscar. The scenes in Parliament at Westminster are amazingly well choreographed, capturing the in-your-face style of British democracy. One of the most affecting moments in this important film is when Churchill goes solo on a brief trip on the London tube (subway), meeting everyday Londoners in a most charming way and being told to stand firm and fight, to not pursue a hopeless peace presumably mediated by the already comprised Italians under Hitler ally Mussolini. It’s a brief but profound tipping-point of validation for Churchill after which he moves forcefully to get a resounding war vote from Parliament and rally the nation for the coming inevitable invasion by Hitler, delivering to Parliament and the world his famous “We will fight them on the beaches…” speech. It’s a deeply affecting and signal moment in the history of democracy standing against ruthless dictatorship.
This film tells us little of Churchill’s family, his spouse Clementine and kids, his long rise to power and his post-war years. But it is a compelling presentation of the mind and manners of one of the most influential political figures of the 20th century at a time of great moment in history.