Genre: War, Drama, Biopic, History
Starring: Gary Oldman, Ben Medelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Roland Pickup, Stephen Dillane, Nicholas Jones, Richard Lumsden, Jeremy Child, Malcolm Storry, Samuel West, David Schofield, Adrian Rawlins, David Strathairn, Benjamin Whithrow.
Year Of Release: 2018
Certificate: PG (UK)
Runtime: 125 Minutes
Director: Joe Wright
Writer(s): Anthony McCarten
Synopsis: “During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.” IMDB
This 2017 British wartime drama is directed by Joe Wright and stars Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James and Ronald Pickup.
May, 1940. Britain and France battle the forces of Nazi Germany in the early years of World War II. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Pickup) stands down in the wake of the war and his poor leadership, and a fellow Conservative MP is chosen to take this place; First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill (Oldman).
Sworn in by King George VI (Mendelsohn) who has little faith in Churchill, the new Prime Minister forms a war cabinet and includes Chamberlain to tackle the Nazi threat. With his closest aides even doubting his ability to pull the United Kingdom out of war, Churchill’s first major decision will be what best to do at Dunkirk.
With the support of wife Clementine (Thomas) and personal secretary Elizabeth Layton (James), Churchill must convince King George and his cabinet that there should be no surrender and that fighting the forces of evil with everything the Allies have will be the only way to secure victory…
One of the first films that launches the 2018 awards season, so you know what to expect. Hard-hitting topics that pertain to real life, performances from actors that transcend just putting on a wig and giving their all; this brings together a character that represents everything patriotic about the United Kingdom set in an era that defined the United Kingdom.
To that extent, it’s a home-grown winner from the off. And with a performance by Gary Oldman that transcends said wig and prosthetics as Winston Churchill himself, he is an actor capable of becoming a character that you can look at and hear and forget it’s Oldman himself. Without him leading this film, it would, however, be your run-of-the-mill British family-friendly war-time drama we’ve seen so many times before.
With the focus only on one month of Churchill’s 5-year turn as Prime Minister, you can’t expect a biopic. This isn’t. This is a glimpse into a defining part of British history and the war that changed our world, and he happens to be the man in charge as it played out. Much of it is crafted in the same mould as ‘Their Finest’, ‘Dunkirk’ ‘and even ‘The Imitation Game’ for that British look and feel.
London under the cloud of war, small villages where nobody’s leave to become somebody’s, and men in smart suits and women in floral dresses. It’s that classic 1940s interpretation of a family-friendly view of the war in which ‘Darkest Hour’ is set, and it offers nothing new in that respect. We have sections of the film seen by all classes, from labourers to royalty, so the view of the people is never lost here.
One little factor to favour is there is no actual war in this, which is nice. We get a fleeting glimpse of fighters over war-torn France for a few moments, but there is nothing of any war on show here. This is a war we see from the comfort of home-soil, but it’s not without the stresses and drama and emotional strain for those involved fighting with words and politics rather than rifles and tanks. But, again, it’s been done before. We know the outcome, but we’ve seen so many versions of similar things that it really depends on the calibre selling it to us that makes a difference.
Thankfully, if the story may be a little thin on the ground and pacing a little weak, it’s held together by a top cast. Ben Mendelsohn is near perfect as King George VI, wrestling with doing the right thing for not just his country but also his family. Kristin Scott Thomas is the sharp-talking but always loving wife Clementine and sweet Lily James is the voice of reason and one who cracks Churchill’s shell as personal secretary Elizabeth Layton.
Of course, they all play second fiddle to Gary Oldman, but they all have those key factors that shape Churchill from the man he was, to who he is, to who he will become. It’s this that is the meat of the 2hr film in seeing him overcome personal doubt from his own war cabinet in the choices and attitude he has to see them stand and cheer and applaud as he finally declares “we shall fight them on the beaches” – and yes, the events at Dunkirk play a key moment in the film, but we don’t see much to rival, challenge or question that of Christopher Nolan’s film.
Don’t worry, the film isn’t crammed with patriotic in-your-face propaganda and a soaring soundtrack; it’s done in a very real and minimal so when we finally reach the climax that defines who Churchill was too many, it’s a journey that feels very natural and not overly dramatic. It’s just a shame as the film finds it’s footing and we find our comfortable leads, it comes to an end.
Gary Oldman does deserve the praise and applauds, because he pretty much carries the film and becomes a British icon. Yet if you removed him and his performance, it’s possible this would simply be another Sunday BBC feature long drama. If you want something to really stir the senses and give you a swell of “Rule Britannia” then you’ll be better off sticking with Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’.