We learn from the past, and sometimes, it’s good to be transported back. Although we can read the history books, nothing’s quite as palpable as the effect of historically based films to help us understand the raw emotion, the experience of the moment, and the power of the details.
“Darkest Hour” provides the essence of those early months of World War II when England was just beginning to confront the reality of Hitler’s power. Focusing on the role played by Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), “The Darkest Hour” elaborates on the deliberations faced when many members of Parliament hoped to reach some kind of compromise with Hitler. The pull and push of those turbulent times plays out with high intensity in this history-based film.
Following Churchill’s actions as Prime Minister, the narrative evolves as England faces the crisis at Dunkirk and the real threat of Nazi domination. Churchill’s closest advisors have watched as reality sets in that most of the British army will be lost and that negotiation may be the only alternative.
Whether it’s his sheer stubborn nature or his unmitigated belief in the power of miracles, Churchill bides his time and refuses to acquiesce to the multiple government forces demanding compromise.
Play by play, the film enlivens the events that develop in the close confines of those meetings, especially the ones in the deep interiors of the Cabinet War Rooms where ultimately the fate of the British nation will be decided.
Gary Oldman plays Churchill the statesman with a solid blend of political bravado, heroism, and humanity. In moments of indecision and utter despair, Oldman strengthens his portrayal with depth and sensitivity. As a seasoned, award winning British actor, Oldman has received accolades for this version of Churchill. The make-up miracle alone is noteworthy since Oldman looks nothing like the giant of a figure he’s portraying.
In those personal moments with Churchill’s wife Clemmie (Kirsten Scott Thomas), the complicated nature of their personalities plays out well. She offers sage advice and helps him shoulder his very heavy responsibilities, but leadership and the fate of the country falls to him.
One particularly well-scripted scene occurs when Churchill bolts from his chauffeur-driven car and makes his way to do something he’s never done before: ride on the London underground. After asking directions to the route to Westminster, Churchill boards the “tube” for access to the common people that he serves. He wants to know if they believe that comprise with Hitler is the answer.
After their startled initial surprise wears off, they express their undying support in the power of British strength and resolve. The rallying cry “never surrender” echoes throughout the train car, and Churchill has his answer.
Whether or not this particular scene actually happened or was added for screen effect, I’ll have consult the historians. What I know for sure is that history has many great cinematic moments in “Darkest Hour.”
Rated PG for some thematic material.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews since 1999.