Main content

Darkest Hour - This Week At The Movies

Darkest Hour ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

London, May 1940. Abruptly ushered into leading the British Empire against the threat of Hitler on the continent, Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) must battle his own party, the opposition and the Nazis as he attempts to solve the disaster that is Dunkirk and persuade those that might want to call a truce with Germany to think again. Supported by his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his personal secretary Nel Layton (Lily James), he summons the courage to lead the nation and turn the initially hesitant King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) into an all-important ally.

Pros:

  • Gary Oldman is sensational. Underneath the inches of make-up and prosthetics, Oldman brings a nimble sparkiness to the traditionally grumpy wartime leader, blasting out Churchill’s speeches one moment; zipping around parliament the next. You could spend the whole movie ignoring what’s actually going on and just watch him own the character, inhabiting him in a way you recognise while introducing new aspects to a figure you swiftly realise you don’t know that much about.
  • Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk concentrated on the soldiers on the beaches, but Darkest Hour is all about the politicians barking at each other in the bunkers back home, and as such is much talkier. Much, much talkier. If you’re not already a World War II buff, you’ll learn a lot you didn’t already know through these reams of dialogue, particularly in terms of how close we came to making peace with Germany.
  • Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina, Hanna) is well-known for how good his films look, and Darkest Hour is no exception, the camera pacing around, much like Churchill, and playing with the light despite so much of it being set in dusty houses and dank war offices.

Cons:

  • Betrayed, you might say, by the facts of the situation it recreates, Darkest Hour is often stilted and lumpy, its narrative faltering when you want it to pick up pace. You’re so involved in Oldman’s performance, you may not mind, but there are moments when you desperately want the film to maintain its initial pace and tell you more, more quickly.
  • It is the Gary Oldman show, so if you happen to not respond to his performance, or his portrayal of Churchill, Darkest Hour will be a dark hour indeed. It so relies on his hard work, on his deep dive into the character, that it lives or dies by it.
  • You have to allow the film the creative liberties it takes with the truth. Historians may well roll their eyes at certain scenes that almost certainly didn’t happen, but if you’re willing to overlook the truth being stretched – and it is stretched a decent amount, with the two-hour-plus film feeling like it could have lost half an hour – or happen to be relatively ignorant of Churchill’s early Prime Ministership, you’ll just enjoy the deep bath of Oldman’s performance and head home satisfied.

Three word review: Oldman’s finest hour

Movies That Made Me: Inside the films of two Oscar nominees

Ali looks back at 2017