Review: Darkest Hour

Joe Wright’s latest sees Churchill’s first twenty odd days Prime Minister during the height of Hitler’s power. It’s refreshing to see biopics spend more time fleshing out a smaller time frame rather than trying to cram someone’s entire life into two hours. Instead of brushing over more intimate scenes between Churchill and his wife or ignoring the role of his typist, we see how a multitude of situations lead to his decision of resisting peace talk with Hitler, despite it seemingly being the will of the entire government. While the film’s plot plays it way too safe and bends the truth in places without any disguise, brilliant cinematography and a world-class performance from Gary Oldman will keep you interested for parts of it.

Oldman has been receiving a huge amount of buzz and looks like a dead cert for the best actor category. While I personally would love to see Timothee Chalamet or Daniel Kaluuya get the award, It wouldn’t be unfair to say Oldman deserves it. He absolutely embodies the role of Churchill and not just because of the make up, which is absolutely superb. He manages to bring nuances and tics that you only realise once you think back to the movie. The stutter of his accent to the way he bumbles about through every corridor are note perfect. Within ten minutes, I had forgotten it was Gary Oldman underneath it all. I just watched as Churchill lead the country.

Sadly, Oldman’s performance is far, far superior to the movie he stars in.  

Sadly, Oldman’s performance is far, far superior to the movie he stars in. There’s nothing necessarily too wrong with the script; it’s just very safe and feels like it was written for an audience who need everything spelt out for them. Every character has their role within the government said after their name on every possible occasion, just in case we forget who they are. But for me, the worst offence is that I never felt inspired by the film. It shows how Britain overcame the worst odds and how Churchill really did beat everything thrown against him, but it never makes you want to punch your fists in the air or sing the praises of all those involved. Even when he is delivering his historic speech, I didn’t get goose bumps or sit on the edge of my seat. At times it felt more like a dramatic re-enactment rather than a mainstream movie.

With that being said, Joe Wright’s direction and Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography really impressed me. There are some visually stunning shots that all vary to some degree. Whether it was a young boy looking up at a flying plane, Churchill on the phone in a room alone or how a door would shut and leave a huge impression on the limited view through the glass, the fact they never ran out of ways to show us very similar rooms is a real testament to their trade. The mucky colour scheme throughout the whole film also added to the WWII aesthetic but without some of the most visually pleasing shots I’ve seen since ‘Blade Runner 2049’, it would have gone unnoticed. It’ll be a while before a film this grounded tops ‘Darkest Hour’ for cinematography.

It’ll be a while before a film this grounded tops ‘Darkest Hour’ for cinematography.  

With so much praise being heaped on Oldman, it’s easy to forget the other stars of this film. Kristin Scott Thomas is brilliant as Churchill’s wife Clemmie. Every scene between the two is full of comedy thanks to their brilliant chemistry. They actually don’t have too many moments together so they stand out even more because of this. Lily James, one of my favourite actors around, is great as usual, if perhaps a bit forgettable and underused. Someone who isn’t getting a lot of attention for their role is Ben Mendelsohn. He stars as King George VI and, as with every role he seems to play, I didn’t even realise it was him until the credits. He is absolutely terrific in his turn as the King and has yet another brilliant performance he can add to his long list of roles.

‘Darkest Hour’ is a decent film, it just never gets better than just good which is a real shame as Oldman’s award-winning performance deserves better. Perhaps all the glowing reviews this film received months ago were so blown away by his acting, it was like painting over a crack.

6/10

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