As far as our Editor is concerned the darkest hour is that moment just before the landlord at The Nags Head calls, ‘Time gentlemen, please!’ However here’s its Churchill who faces the darkest hour. Played by Gary Oldman, almost unrecognisable under layers of prosthetics, the politician’s reputation is still recovering from his disastrous campaign at Gallipoli and a certain amount of disdain from some politicians after he crossed the floor from the Liberals to the Conservatives.
Churchill can only watch as the current conservative prime minster, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is on the ropes being pinned there by a storming Labour opposition who force his resignation. The fear of a coalition seems oddly prescient and Chamberlain is portrayed as inept in his dealings with Hitler with his ‘peace in our times’ agreement famously waving the contract in the air which in retrospect was about as reliable as Amanda Holden’s marriage vows to Les Dennis.
It’s the early days of World War II and Hitler’s Nazi forces are rampaging across Europe with Britain next on his ‘must have’ list. Chamberlain’s reputation has suffered greatly over the years but there is an argument that he was cleverly playing for time to allow the British military to obtain the necessary hardware (planes, ships etc) for the impending war that was about to arrive on its doorstep but it’s a point never explored here.
Instead this covers the party’s initial reluctance to have Churchill as the new party leader over Viscount Halifax and it’s a role that Churchill has secretly been longing for (and he wouldn’t be the last either, would he Boris Johnson?). King George VI is equally reluctant to have the cigar chomping heavy drinking curmudgeon as his Prime Minster but all realise that Churchill is a better choice over Halifax.
The real life machinations of politics is well played here with Halifax plotting in the back ground to over throw Churchill and his war cabinet pushing for further mediatory talks with Hitler. At the same time British troops are cornered in Dunkirk and on the verge of being slaughtered so his choice to prevent this happening seems obvious.
Director Joe Wright has picked himself up and dusted himself down after the box office bomb that was Pan and this is far more satisfying. With the events of the film happening in a relatively short space of time brilliantly realised by a recurring onscreen calendar ticking away the days which serves to compound the urgency of the situation. It’s one of several stylish directorial flourishes that includes Churchill speaking to the US President only to find himself utterly isolated in a pokey little room surrounded by darkness, and a scene where a battalion of injured troops, realising their fate in a God’s eye view as the Nazi bombers drop death on the beleaguered survivors. It emphasises the brilliance of the Dunkirk evacuation.
At the centre of this is Oldman’s performance as the Prime Minster who is a far from obvious choice to play the role even by his own admission but it’s a wholly creditable and at times compelling show and is ably supported by Kristin Scott Thomas as his wife Clemmie who has the strongest of two female roles in the film because Lily James, who plays his personal secretary, is woefully underwritten with only one scene that really stands out where she teaches him the current way to do his V for Victory sign without causing offence.
This is, at times, a talk heavy feature and towards the end is little bit dry but the strength of his rousing speeches still stand the test of time and though this for Churchill the testing time was his Darkest Hour, for Goldman, when it comes to awards time, it may be the exact opposite.
Here’s the trailer…….