It follows Winston Churchill (played by Gary Oldman) and his war cabinet as they struggle to decide the fate of their nation. Should they fight on, or should they surrender?
Right off the bat, the viewer is thrown into the heat of the action, as Neville Chamberlain (played by Ronald Pickup) is forced to resign and is replaced by Winston Churchill. Instantly, one of the most noticeable aspects of the movie is the actors’ performances. Gary Oldman gives an outstanding performance as Churchill. Not only are his body language and facial expressions believable and full of character, but his speeches and dialogues are delivered with such conviction and power. It’s incredible how Oldman manages to transform into Churchill, especially given how different they look. Oldman is easily the star of the show, and rightfully so, given how well he handles his role.
However, he is not the only one who gives a powerful performance. Kristin Scott Thomas (as Clemmie), Ben Mendelsohn (as King George VI), and Lily James (as Elizabeth Layton) all play their roles fantastically. Their acting is believable, which really sells their characters to the audience. They act like real people and keep their characters consistent throughout the movie. The actors also play incredibly well off each other. In one scene, Churchill takes Layton to the war room to show her the current state of affairs, and they share a heartfelt moment when words are barely exchanged. Churchill gives a short explanation to Layton about the problem at hand before showing her a map of Europe. He explains the situation as best he can, and the grim truth comes out. They stand in silence. What makes this instance so powerful is how both Churchill and Layton stare at the war map, their faces stricken with pain and terror as they seemingly hold back tears.
The director and crew also create a tense atmosphere in this film. In almost every scene, the lighting is used to great effect in creating dreadful, eerie scenes. As the movie progresses, the lighting changes to reflect Churchill’s state of grandeur, his state of defeat, and his state of conviction. Scene changes are directed perfectly, so the scenes flow into each other with seamless transitions. The soundtrack also really helps to cement the correct mood in each scene. Music is not used much, except to help portray emotion in moments of grandeur, tension, or helplessness.
One scene that especially encapsulates these points is when Churchill visits the French prime minister. In the opening shot, Churchill’s plane sits just outside a military hangar. A blinding fog is poised behind the aircraft, as if it’s about to lunge over the plane and cover it up. Slowly, Churchill and his cabinet emerge from the plane and walk into the hangar while ominous music plays. Sitting at the screen’s edge are the silhouettes of soldiers. It’s a memorable and remarkable scene that highlights how the cinematographers did an amazing job with this movie.
While the movie may sound perfect, there are some flaws. One of the bigger problems is the historical liberties it takes. The movie tries to paint Churchill as the hero of the UK’s “darkest hour,” the unequivocal good guy. While Churchill was a powerful and important figure during the war, he was more of a morally grey person and a hugely controversial figure. The film portrays Churchill as acting independently to fight the war. In reality, the Labour Party was an important part of this campaign. The movie also depicts several shouting matches, many of which did not actually happen. Now, to be fair, these changes create a more apparent conflict for Churchill, aside from the threat of German invasion. While adding tension to the movie makes it more interesting, historical accuracy is very important, and muddying facts should be kept to a minimum in media like this.
The movie delivers a strong message about society and the individual. Churchill was not a well-liked man. Much of Parliament and even the populace disliked him. However, in these trying times, Churchill stood up for Britian and refused to surrender in the face of adversity. His plans were wild and sacrificial, but they were the only way to hold off the German threat. In the country’s time of need, Churchill rallied the people of London, and by extension the UK, against a foe who threatened their liberty, as well as the world’s.
All told, Darkest Hour is a wonderful movie, as long as viewers take it with a grain of salt and don’t tout it as a historically accurate film. The performances are believable, the scenes are immersive, and the soundtrack is carefully used. The movie is well crafted and will greatly appeal to anyone who enjoys media related to history. Darkest Hour is perfect for teens and adults, especially those who are historically inclined.
My final verdict for the movie is a rating of four out of five. So much of this film is fantastically made, and given how many awards it has won, many others agree. It’s a unique take on the World War II movie, featuring minimal violence (only one scene in the entire film is set on the frontlines) and instead focusing on the government’s actions during this time. The historical inaccuracies subtract from the potential for this movie to be an excellent teaching and learning tool, but Darkest Hour does give a basic gist of the events that transpired during the first month of Churchill’s premiership and is an excellent watch regardless.
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