Directed by Joe Wright
2017 saw the retelling of the Battle of Dunkirk from two opposing perspectives. In Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, the story played out from the perspective of the stranded soldiers, fighting for their lives and their return back home. Joe Wright's Darkest Hour observed the operation from the shores of Britain, from the cold and distanced perspective of the politicians in the war room. Two starkly opposing narratives, yet two films that embody the determination and perseverance of a nation on the brink of war.
With the looming fear of an invasion by Nazi Germany, newly appointed Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), is faced with one of his most turbulent and defining challenges: negotiate peace with the Nazis or stand firm and fight for his nations ideals of liberty and freedom. With the odds stacked against him, a traitorous cabinet, and a skeptical King, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour and rally a nation to change the course of history.
Joe Wright's stunning drama transported the audience back to 1940 with its outstanding design and fervent spirit. Wright, known for his gorgeous period dramas, had triumphed yet again by complaining a group of artist to create a picture that is historically accurate but also ravishingly beautiful. Bruno Delbonnel's beautiful cinematography illuminates the production with stunning imagery, and, at times, provides the entertainment needed when the plot underwhelms. Jacqueline Durran and Katie Spencer, along with the production's make team, have reimagined the world of 20th century Britain and brings to life through the costume and set design the invisible world of WWII we never saw. Wright's film triumphs in its design and style; his production brought to life one of the film's greatest character: Britain.
Darkest Hour accurately retells a pivotal moment in history, without sugar-coating or glorifying Churchill and his cabinet. Where Nolan's film gripped with intensity and desperation, Wright's film takes a more political approach. Wright leaves behind the action and heroism, and instead factors out the humanity of the situation, leaving only the bare facts and politics to drive his film. At times, Darkest Hour borders on being too dense, too factual to be emotive. At times, the war rooms scenes lag in its ability to captivate (and perhaps more of a character study into the war's impact on the supporting characters, like Lily James's Elizabeth, would have brought more emotion and sensitive to the drama). Yet it is still able to find the quieter moments and even the nationalist moments that bring emotion and pride back into the picture.
In a triumphant performance, Gary Oldman remarkable embodies Britain's most notable figure, both in appearance and spirit. Churchill, a role not particularly associated with Oldman's character portfolio, is brought wonderfully to life through Oldman's meticulous and charming performance. Oldman captures effortlessly every quality of the politician's character but never making him a parody of himself. He doesn't glorify Churchill - he finds his faults, often his childish desire to have everything done his way, and he plays on his insecurities, the possibility that perhaps war isn't the solution. Yet this is what makes this portrayal of Churchill so colorful and vibrant from the many others - the understanding that ones ego lead to the destruction of a nation or that understanding those that challenge you and becoming a better leader because of it couldn't be more pressing for modern world leaders as it was for the world leaders of the 1940s. In a performance that can be marked entirely by physicality and his eyes, Oldman bursts through the prosthetics to give a performance that is nuanced and stimulating, powerful and sensitive, enlightening and empowering. A performance that reminds us how a true Prime Minister leads to victory.
Darkest Hour is a stylish and atmospheric film that brings together the modern romance of costume dramas with the historical ambiance of pre-war Britain. It's a film that, although is based in the past, has roots in today's politics.
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