Sunday, December 31, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Darkest Hour (2017)

My last new theatrical film of 2017 was DARKEST HOUR (2017) starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.

The movie depicts Churchill's election as Prime Minister of Great Britain in the spring of 1940, replacing Neville Chamberlain, and the ensuing crises regarding whether to conduct peace talks with Germany and the near-loss of much of the British Army at Dunkirk.

I've read several conflicting essays regarding the film's historical accuracy, but a column by historian Steven Hayward at PowerLine helped convince me to see it. Initially dubious about the film's portrayal of Churchill and events, after considering the film further Hayward wrote "I now think Darkest Hour is a great movie, and a genuine achievement... Now I can't wait to see it again." (Don't miss Hayward's piece, which quotes from some fascinating family letters Hayward's British relative wrote during the time frame depicted in the film.)

From a cinematic point of view, it's an excellent film which I enjoyed as much as anything I've seen this year. Despite the tense storyline, I found it quite relaxing spending time with this movie, completely absorbed in the characters and situations. I tend to prefer shorter films and was surprised when it was over and I realized it had run over two hours (125 minutes, to be exact). It went quickly and the pace seemed just right.

Oldman might not be the late Robert Hardy, considered by many the best screen Churchill -- a role Hardy played at least a dozen times -- but Oldman had me completely sold on his version of the prime minister.

Also excellent were Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill and Ronald Pickup as Neville Chamberlain. Lily James, who plays Churchill's secretary Elizabeth Layton, is an appealing actress (CINDERELLA, BABY DRIVER) I look forward to seeing in future films. Her character helps to bring out some of Churchill's less delicate habits and also represents the "ordinary people" who were doing their bit to cope with the war.

One of the really interesting things about the film for me was the parallels I saw with modern-day U.S. politics. The establishment types found Churchill completely annoying -- indeed, King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) confessed Churchill "scared" him -- and they were dismayed by some of his coarse habits (alllll those drinks and cigars!), his combative spirit, and his refusal to go along to get along, particularly when it came to peace talks. Viewers can draw their own comparisons and conclusions but I was left feeling that in some ways "the more things change, the more they stay the same." There's really nothing new under the sun.

One of the best scenes in the film finds the King visiting Churchill and the two men finally coming to a meeting of the minds, with the King pledging to back Churchill all the way. It's a quiet scene of immense power.

A sequence with Churchill getting the opinions of the "common people" on the Underground was contrived and perhaps the only unbelievable note in the film, but I confess I enjoyed it nonetheless. It's a nice "flag waving" moment, so to speak.

I was also struck that although -- with the exception of a single shot of boats -- DARKEST HOUR reduces Dunkirk to pins on a map, it somehow captured more of the scale of the "miracle at Dunkirk" than this year's Christopher Nolan film, or, for that matter, the 1958 version of the event. Perhaps someday there will be a Dunkirk film which manages to depict the enormity of what was accomplished.

I saw three new films on World War II this year, the final film of the trio being THEIR FINEST (2017), and DARKEST HOUR was by far the best. I enjoyed the other two films to varying degrees but they had definite weaknesses. DARKEST HOUR was solid all the way.

DARKEST HOUR was directed by Joe Wright from a script by Anthony McCarten. It was filmed by Bruno Delbonnel.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for "some thematic material." The rating seems like absurd overkill for a film with drinking, smoking, and a single bombing. Whether children under 13 would be interested in the film is another question, but I really don't understand this rating.

A trailer is at YouTube.



Blogger DKoren said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! I agree with everything you said here, and also felt that it somehow managed to capture Dunkirk far better than "Dunkirk" did, without knowing quite how it did it either. Maybe just the fact that this movie was emotional (at least for me), and "Dunkirk" was not? The scene between the King and Churchill when the King offers his full support was my favorite scene in the movie, and Churchill's famous speech at the end brought tears to my eyes.

Happy New Year's Eve!!

6:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Deb, Happy New Year, and may it be a wonderful one in your new home!

I'm fascinated that you had the same reaction regarding the depiction of Dunkirk, isn't that interesting? I think you may be on to something, at least in part, that DARKEST HOUR was more emotionally involving. I enjoyed DUNKIRK to an extent, but more on a technical level (admiring the 70mm and unusual editing), while feeling it missed the boat on capturing the actual rescue. I think DARKEST HOUR also managed to bring home how dire the situation would be if the troops were lost, while DUNKIRK was focused so tightly on a handful of people.

That scene with Churchill and the King was fantastic, especially as it unfolded in ways I wasn't anticipating. I sat there with a smile on my face, loving it. Definitely a film I'll be watching again.

Best wishes,

8:35 PM  
Blogger mel said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this - I've heard that it's very much better than the awful "Churchill" (Teplitzky, 2017).

Thanks for your recommendation, Laura.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Because I went to see "CHURCHILL" earlier in the year I had thought maybe I would not see this one too (I did enjoy the earlier film quite well) but having read your review, Laura, I will definitely seek out "THE DARKEST HOUR" now.

1:52 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Mel and Jerry! It's interesting, I was completely unawares there was another CHURCHILL film this year -- perhaps it was mentioned in DARKEST HOUR reviews and I just glossed over that info! I tend to be largely in sync with both of your movie tastes so it's intriguing one of you liked it and one didn't care for it! If you have the chance to see DARKEST HOUR I'd really enjoy hearing what you think.

Best wishes,

1:24 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Hi Laura,

I know it is 'late to the party' but my wife and I went to a cinema yesterday to watch "DARKEST HOUR", largely due to the very positive review by you.

We absolutely loved the film. That 125 mins went by in a flash, it was so engrossing and gripping. The scenes on the 'tube' train were a concoction, I feel sure, but it nonetheless added to the enjoyment enormously. I thought I knew most of the facts surrounding that period in my country's history but I had not fully appreciated just how close we came to collapse. Those early days of war were indeed the "darkest hour"!
With the rescue of the majority of our army from Dunkirk, followed by the Battle of Britain, things moved forward, crucially.

But my parents who lived through it all and took part of course always said it was the inspiration of 'WINNIE' that was absolutely key in what transpired. In retrospect though one also has to recognise, I believe, that Britain may well not have survived without the involvement of the U.S. from 1942 on.

"DARKEST HOUR" will be one of my favourite new movies of the past year (and more).

11:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I was really thrilled that you loved the movie and appreciate so much you taking the time to share your thoughts, especially reflecting what your parents said. I hope your response will encourage more people to try this excellent film. I'll definitely be picking it up when it comes out on DVD/Blu-ray as I'd like to see it again, I think I will get even more out of it the second time.

Thanks again!

Best wishes,

11:04 AM  

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