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'Darkest Hour' Review

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January 12, 2018
Hunter Friesen
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Every year there is bound to be a biopic that is released in the middle of awards season. Films like The Social Network, The King’s Speech, and A Beautiful Mind have come along and won major awards telling the story of famous men. Darkest Hour perfectly fits this description and will certainly be an active member of this year's awards race. An outstanding and unrecognizable performance from Gary Oldman along with great direction from Joe Wright. While it falls into some conventional trappings, the overall quality is still good and makes for an interesting character of one of history’s greatest leaders. 

The setting of the film is during the month of May 1940. We witness Churchill at his most vulnerable as he has just been given a huge amount of power in a time of looming terror. He has enemies on the opposing side of the war, but also enemies within Parliament as they take problems with his leadership. A large part of the film covers Churchill's decision on how to deal with the battle of Dunkirk, which, like the title, was one of Britain's darkest hours. From here we follow Churchill along as tries to find a solution to a momentous problem that could spell disaster for England and the rest of Europe.

The film can get slow and repetitive at some points since it carries a 125-minute runtime and is mainly about Churchill’s decision over Dunkirk and the Nazis. Specific arguments and facts are over-explained to the point where the film becomes somewhat predictable as to what the characters are going to say. There is a small storyline about Churchill’s objectors within Parliament, led by the ousted Neville Chamberlain, but that plot wears thin quickly and doesn’t come to a very satisfactory end. There are also some overly cinematic moments that are distractingly over the top and take away from smaller scenes that carry more weight to the story.  

Apart from its small problems, Darkest Hour has a very good script that gives Oldman many opportunities to shine. The dialogue between Churchill and other politicians is almost Sorkin-like in its way to move at a very quick pace but also gives you the information you need. The moments between Churchill and his wife are also touchingly done, as both find solace in each other's company in troubled times.

Darkest Hour is a perfect companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, the other brilliant film that came out this year featuring the titular battle. While Dunkirk showcases the real fight on the beaches, Darkest Hour lets the audience witness how Britain’s leaders reacted to such a major battle. Seeing both together allows the viewer to see both a first and secondhand account of one of the biggest points of conflict in human history.

With experience in period-piece films such as Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, director Joe Wright expertly knows how to stage and execute a film with lots of dialogue and grand sets. Most times we are literally following behind Churchill as the camera travels with him. We see his journey from his home, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. It is all impressively done and superbly showcases the grandness of London in such dreary times.

There is also a wonderful score from Dario Marianelli that mixes both booming and soft orchestral music. The music usually hides in the background until just the right moment to grab your attention. A highlight is at the very end of the film when Churchill makes his famous speech.

Even though he is in practically every scene of the film, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill is so good I wish there was more of him. He perfectly captures Churchill's brutish tone and attitude but also shows his softer side when he is away from the public. Oldman also plays excellently off all his supporting cast members, most notably Kristin Scott Thomas as his wife and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. 

We also get a larger supporting role from Lily James as Churchill's assistant. When we are not following Churchill we are focused on her character and the journey she went through being a witness t to one of history's most powerful figures. While Oldman takes command and gives us an inside look at Churchill, James holds her own by letting us see how others saw him on the outside. 

Any actor who wishes to play Churchill in the future will now have to live up to the unrealistically high bar Oldman has just raised. Awards will surely, and deservedly, go to him, but also should go to Bruno Delbonnel for his cinematography and Marianelli for his score. Not since Lincoln has a film done such an incredible job examining a historical figure and making us feel like we are right in the middle of history.

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