A light in the darkness

A light in the darkness

Review: Darkest Hour

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James.

Directed by Joe Wright

Now renowned as a great wartime leader, Winston Churchill began his tenure as British Prime Minister as a pariah. Remembered mainly for his botching of the Gallipoli campaign, Churchill needed to overcome low expectations in order to lead his country during a time of great trial.

This is the premise behind Darkest Hour, a film that is the catalyst for a good deal of Oscar buzz.

The film begins with Churchill having just become Prime Minister because he is the only person the Labour Opposition would accept. Forming a bipartisan war cabinet, he fills it with his political rivals so as to keep his enemies close. This leads to much subsequent intrigue, as two members of his own cabinet, deposed prime minster Neville Chamberlain and heir apparent Halifax, plot Churchill’s overthrow. Adding to matters is the new prime ministers fraught relationship with the king, and the fact that practically all of Britain’s army is stranded near Dunkirk as Hitler prepares an invasion.

Darkest Hour manages to build and maintain a sense of dread throughout, as the campaign at Dunkirk becomes more and more daunting. The film portrays Churchill, not as the great man of myth, but as a bumbling, flawed human being with great responsibility thrust upon him. Churchill is initially unmercifully vicious towards his new assistant, yet appears in later scenes to be a warm man of the people, as comfortable in a train full of the British public as the House of Commons.

In this sense, the film manages to maintain a balanced portrayal of a man whose legend has grown. Bringing this into view is an important historical task. As Allen Packwood, the director of the Churchill Archives Centre argues, “There’s a danger in Churchill gaining a purely iconic status because that actually takes away from his humanity.”

“He is this incredibly complex, contradictory and larger-than-life human being and he wrestled with these contradictions during his lifetime.”

Churchill, for anything that can be said for his abilities as a wartime leader, was an incorrigible racist whose legacy can be measured as his leadership out of World War Two as much as it can botching Gallipoli. With the foresight to sense the threat that Hitler represented and making the correct decisions to get his country through the war, he went on to lose the next election.

In a sense, then, Darkest Hour recalls so much of biblical figures like Noah and Moses: sinful human beings who God called to do so much.

Darkest Hour’s cinematography and direction stand out as strong points. Gary Oldman does not look like Churchill, but manages to portray both the comedic side of the man’s persona as well as the gravitas.

In a crowded Academy Awards field, Darkest Hour deserves to do well.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor

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