Movie review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Gary Oldman delivers a tremendous performance in Dunkirk, aided by impressive makeup.

The good news is that The Daughter wanted to go see Darkest Hour, the 2017 film not to be confused with several other films with the same or similar titles. The bad news is that she kept referring to it as “the film with “that guy.” The good news is that after we saw it this month at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, she now knows who “that guy” is.

In May 1940, when World War II had overtaken most of western Europe, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), the Prime Minister from the ruling Conservative party lost the confidence of the opposition Labour. While Tory loyalists wanted Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane), the only Conservative who could sway the opposition into a governing pact was an opinionated blowhard of excess named Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman).

Churchill could be quite difficult, as his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) discovered early on. Even King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) admitted to being a little afraid of the pugnacious new Prime Minister. Only his equally strong-willed wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) could tame him sometimes, and even she could become exasperated by his excesses.

This is a story of political intrigue. As the news from Europe worsened, how would Britain respond, especially since there were troops on the Continent? Should they negotiate with Hitler, as Chamberlain, disastrously by most accounting, had done so regarding Czechoslovakia? Should the king be whisked away to Canada? Or should the country fight, despite the incredible odds?

Gary Oldman delivers a tremendous performance, aided by impressive makeup. My favorite scenes involve him and Scott Thomas, who show that, despite it all, a great love between Winston and Clemmie. Also very good is Lily James.

Interestingly, I had received, after the fact, an invitation to see Darkest Hour at Hillsdale College in Michigan, suggesting that the conservative facility was giving its imprimatur to the film.

It DOES make me wish I had seen the 2017 movie Dunkirk, which addresses the battle from the side of the fighters, not just the politicians that put them at risk. This is no knock on Darkest Hour, which was telling the story from a different POV, some fictionalized, although a share of the criticism of Darkest Hour did draw comparisons, some unfavorable, to Dunkirk.