On September 30th, 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to London from Munich and declared that he had negotiated a deal with Hitler that said their two countries were never going to go to war again. Later, from Downings street he declared that it was peace for our time. And all it cost them was giving part of Czechoslovakia to the Germans! Hitler, apparently not having gotten the memo, later took several more Czech provinces and, in September of 1939, invaded Poland, officially bringing Britain into the war.
By May of 1940 the country had lost confidence in Chamberlain’s ability to lead during wartime and on May 10th, hours before the German invasion of France, Chamberlain resigned. His resignation opens Darkest Hour, a movie that centers around Winston Churchill’s first three weeks in the position. A harrowing three weeks during which France collapsed, and the British Expeditionary force, some 400,000 men, were pushed back to Dunkirk and Calais, with no hope of getting them out in time before the German’s rolled tanks in and slaughtered them.
I have no idea as to the accuracy of the dramatic aspects of the story. After he resigned as Prime Minister Chamberlain stayed on in the government and Churchill selected him as a member of his war cabinet, along with a Chamberlain loyalist that had turned down the position of Prime Minister, Stannis Baratheon. The movie sets up the two of them up as Churchill’s antagonists in the story. With most of Britain’s infantry facing slaughter in France and no allies in sight, Chamberlain and Stannis favor opening up peace talks through Italy which effectively would amount to surrender with terms. Churchill must decide. That is the context of Darkest Hour, a movie which I thoroughly enjoyed, starring Gary Oldman as the notorious Prime Minister, and I’ve had friends whose opinions I value tell me that they found the movie dull. I couldn’t disagree more. To be clear, Darkest Hour is not a war movie, nor is it a politics film.
It’s a biopic that attempts to use the events from a single month in his life, to try and paint a portrait of one history’s most interesting and eccentric leaders. 201 In the first three minutes of the movie where we meet Winston Churchill, he’s drinking scotch for breakfast, coughs into the phone as a hello to the French ambassador and accidentally flashes his undercarriage to a young new secretary. After screaming her from his bedroom his wife provides what could be considered the movie’s only thesis. 9:30 “He’s a man, like any other.” The movie may center around politics but that is because that is the service to which he dedicated his life. When Churchill is confirmed, Clementine Churchill acknowledges that the family had to make peace with the fact that Churchill was never going to be much of a father due to the required sacrifices of public life.
In the scene, his daughters can’t make eye contact and his son downs his glass of champagne vengefully. And sure enough, that ends up being as much of his family beyond his wife. And his conflict with Chamberlain and Stannis is not painted in simple moral black and white either. As easy as it is for us now to look back at the time and say who was right, painting Chamberlain and Stannis as simple antagonists, the movie gives them enough depth to be able to identify with their perspectives. Churchill was a hardliner dead set against negotiation.
In Chamberlain’s eyes and his desire for peace, I started to see a man who just 20 years before the events of the film was witness to a World War that cost 20 million deaths. A war that everyone thought would end all wars. No one knew at the time what was about to happen and I found Chamberlain’s desperate desire for peace relatable and helps provide Churchill a meaningful arc in the story. 301 Strangely as I watched Darkest Hour I kept finding myself reminded of the Harry Potter movies and at first I was wondering if it was because of some undiagnosed Americanism. But I think it’s Joe Wright’s direction in the movie that evokes the fanciful. He has a playful visual style here that never lets Darkest Hour feel like a war film.
The colorful visual palette and whimsical shot composition seem to be communicating that this is a movie about a man who led England against the Nazis, yes, but it’s also about a man who would wear a velvet onesie, could drink anyone under the table, and once spent a great deal of a 24 day trip to the white house naked. turning stairs boy looking through his hand 33:50 *woman on the stairs shower scene 42:45 bombing shot on woman’s face 1:35 guy staring at him on the underground, Of course, the internet’s love affair with Gary Oldman is pretty well documented at this point. From the fifth element to True Romance to Dracula. He is a scene-stealer, one of the greatest supporting actors ever. But the Academy prefers a particular kind of movie, regardless of performance. DiCaprio finally cracked the codex and now with Darkest Hour Oldman may have as well.
The professional joke. There isn’t much to say except that when you go and see a movie Gary Oldman is in you just know you’re going to see something terrific, and you do. Oldman’s performance of Churchill is charming, loving, offensive, rude, and hilarious. Gary Oldman is a treasure but I found Darkest Hour a charming and incredibly watchable film in total. His pairing here with Joe Wright has created a portrait that is warm and welcoming and engrossing – one that I’m looking forward to seeing again.