Director: Joe Wright
Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
When I first saw the trailer for Darkest Hour, I was a little torn. Films about World War Two I can definitely get on board with. Films about politicians? *yawn*. However- Darkest Hour does star my favourite actress of all time, Lily James- so I was considering the watch. And then after a trusted recommendation, I threw out my inhibitions and bought my ticket.
Boy, am I glad I did. Darkest Hour is captivating. How a story so frequently told can feel as new and fresh as this one does is a question only director Joe Wright knows the answer to. I thought I knew the story of Churchill leading the allies to victory in World War Two. It turns out, I didn’t.
The film starts with Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) being ousted out of office by the opposition. The worldwide political climate demands a coalition for the good of Great Britain, and the opposition will only agree to one lead by Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). The Conservative party do not approve.
We meet Churchill in bed. He is grouchy and short tempered with his new typist, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), who he reduces to tears during their first meeting. After a calming word from his wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas), the audience begins to see under his eccentric exterior, to a nerve riddled man whose dreams are about to come true. Everyone around him tells him that he is about to become Prime Minister, but he will not let himself believe it until the invite from the King himself arrives. And as history tells it, it eventually does.
Churchill is met with resistance from every angle possible. He is mocked by the leaders of the allied countries, especially the French. He is subject to sabotages from his own party, and greeted by silent disapproval when he addresses the houses of parliament.
During the scene when King George (Ben Mendelsohn) asks Churchill to form a government- Churchill kisses his hand, as is customary. King George looks at him in distain, before wiping his hand on his jacket in front of him. The pain in Churchills eyes say it all. His dreams have come true, in the worst way possible.
Anyone who knows the story of Churchill, or has heard his speeches, know that his is a story of resilience and inspiration. He is unwelcome, but he faces up to his enemies and demands that he is listened to. He wants victory, and victory shall be his.
There is a delightful scene during the film where Churchill, confused by all of the backstabbing and Viscount Halifax’s (Stephen Dillane) relentless pressure to begin peace negotiations, escapes from his car and decides to take the London Underground. He decides to listen to the people, and ask their opinions. After all, it is in their interests that he is serving.
We see a host of ordinary people speak to Churchill and there is such charm in these exchanges it is difficult not to find an involuntary grin on your face as you watch. Unfortunately, this scene isn’t historically accurate- but it’s so lovely I am just going to pretend it is.
The movie itself is incredibly cool- both the impressive timeline graphics and ominous score give the film a stylish edge that I did not expect, and is certainly unusual for this genre. (But it totally works).
I expected to come out of Darkest Hour feeling inspired, and whilst this does play a part in the tone of the film, the more overriding feeling for me was sympathy for Churchill. He is pitted against and plotted against but stands firm in his resolve. He is a truly heroic character and the film opens up hidden depths I for one, did not see coming.