By CYNTHIA BIDDLECOMB
“Darkest Hour”, the award-winning 2017 film, portrays Winston Churchill as he takes up the mantle of Prime Minister in May 1940.
This portrayal of Churchill by Gary Oldman won him the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a dramatic feature film and will likely garner him a nomination for an Oscar, if not the win. (This Winston Churchill looks nothing like Oldman’s Police Commissioner Gordon in the Batman movies, so his make-up and hairstyle team ought also to be nominated for Oscars.)
Darkest Hour covers only a few weeks in May of 1940, but difficult weeks they were. (See Dunkirk.) Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain has resigned after a vote of no confidence, in Parliament. Only one man can satisfy both parties and lead the nation in the crisis it faces: staring down the long barrel of Nazi tanks in the early days of World War II. That one man is Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, one who had dedicated his life to serving his country in government. Churchill’s speeches later inspired his country and its allies to beat back the threat of Nazi domination.
But at this point in time, Churchill, and his rivals are well aware of the spectacular public mistakes he once made in office—the 1915 naval invasion of Gallipoli, the 1925 return of the pound sterling to the gold standard, and his support of King Edward VIII’s wish to marry the American divorcée, Wallis Simpson, in 1936. He is 65 years old and it is late in his political career. But it is his oratory—his mastery of the English language and his alone—that will inspire his nation in a time of fear.
After Winston has scared away another new secretary, Clemmie, his wife of over 30 years (played elegantly by Kristin Scott Thomas), counsels him to try to be kind and to see the humanity in others. This advice is brought home to him in a fine section of the film when Churchill decides to ride the Underground for the first time. Kindness also peeks out of his normal bluster when he learns from his new secretary-typist Elizabeth Layton (played by Lily James) that her brother died in the war. Even so, Miss Layton is made to type for him in the strangest places and at weird times.
Here is the famous orator with all his annoying habits, many of which bring giggles to the audience. Here also, we see an imperfect man whose gifts are needed by a nation seeking hope. King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) confesses to being afraid of Churchill, but in the end supports his determination to seek victory over Germany, at all cost. Scenes staged in the grand buildings of British Government, are perfect. Filming in the actual Churchill War Rooms in London helps one to feel the urgency of the hour. Throughout the film, one is reminded of the sufferings of the people of Europe and the tough decisions leaders were having to make during the war.
Darkest Hour is “Rated PG-13 for some thematic material.” It is highly recommended for those who appreciate great acting, or historical accuracy in film. The humor and the brilliance of the man, Churchill, truly are brought to life in Gary Oldman’s performance. You won’t soon forget this Winston Churchill nor this film.