“We will never surrender!” Winston Churchill shouts in one of his most famous speeches to the House of Commons, recreated in one of the most powerful moments of the thrilling retelling of Churchill’s first few weeks as Prime Minister, “Darkest Hour.” With France on its heels, the United States nowhere to be found and Nazi Germany seemingly on the brink of domination over all of Europe, into the fray stepped Winston Churchill, who would eventually succeed where Neville Chamberlain had so infamously failed. Gary Oldman (“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”), rendered almost unrecognizable, portrays Churchill with a gravitas and force that seems destined to rank among his best performances. The stunning picture also features Ben Mendelsohn (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”), Lily James (“Baby Driver”) and Kristin Scott Thomas (“Sarah’s Key”). Written by Anthony McCarten (“The Theory of Everything), directed by Joe Wright (“Pan”) and accompanied by a breathtaking score composed by Dario Marianelli (“Anna Karenina”), “Darkest Hour” reminds us of how, in the midst of the darkest chapter in modern European history, there were still people brave enough to stand up for the light.
Oldman’s charisma and energy propel the film, demanding attention every time he is on screen while simultaneously giving viewers a deep look into the confused, conflicted, depressed but never conquered mind of Winston Churchill. The film takes care to paint Churchill as a flawed individual, one whose vices occasionally got the better of him. His relationship with his wife is well established in the first act but does fall off a bit as the movie continues. Churchill’s complex relationships with the King of England and other members of Parliament is portrayed in a fairly unbiased manner, though the benefit of history will clearly lead the audience to fall almost exclusively on one side.
The film is visually stunning. It features sweeping overhead shots of the Parliament chambers and limited use of stylized war footage that gives the film a wide spectrum of interesting shots. The overall aesthetic is cold and crisp, fitting for a story about the darkest days in British history.
There aren’t enough good things that can be said about the soundtrack in “Darkest Hour.” Few films in 2017 have featured a booming orchestral score so prominently, harkening back to a grander, more narrative-based method of scoring movies that has faded from prominence in today’s era of temp scores and generic action music. With his score for “Darkest Hour,” Marianelli has redefined himself as one of the most promising young composers in the industry.
There are only two facets of the film in which it falters. One is the length. The second half of the movie at times feels like it’s spinning its wheels, with Churchill and the remains of Chamberlain’s powerbase fighting a war that feels like it could have been condensed. There also is a subplot that focuses on Churchill’s young aide eventually coming around to him that feels both outdated and out of place, and it seems like that storyline either could’ve been cut or the time would’ve better been spent elsewhere.
“Darkest Hour” might be Oscar-bait, but it is also simply an amazing film. It features one of Britain’s finest actors as one of Britain’s finest men in the weeks before what would be one of its finest hours in history. Oldman gives a performance for the ages.