It would be odd to label this year “The Year of Dunkirk,” but how many times else have their been two solid movies released around the same subtopic (World War II is a rather broad topic and their have been many instances where more than one great WWII movie is released). It is also unfortunate that the best of the two movies on the subject was released during the summer, so The Darkest Hour must live in the shadow of a far-superior predecessor that wasn’t necessarily based on fact. But that should serve as a mirror for the type of movie Darkest Hour is: something good that should have been great.
Darkest Hour covers the first couple days of Churchill’s run as Prime Minister of England and the struggle he faced being thrown into a World War II garbage heap of Adolf Hitler and stranded British soldiers on the beach of Dunkirk. While the bulk of British Parliament begs for peace talks, Churchill urges the good fight, causing the people around him to believe they made a mistake and talk about ousting Churchill almost immediately (I wish movies would stop thinking this is a good source of conflict in a story when we so clearly know that the exact opposite happens).
Churchill, of course, is one of the most iconic and influential men of the 20th century and possibly of all time. He was a terrific leader of the English people, extremely well-educated, a great orator, a historian, and a writer of a few genres. You may find him most represented on a list of most inspirational quotes, and boy did he have a ton of them.
In watching Darkest Hour, you wouldn’t get any of that. Instead, the movie showcases Winston Churchill as a man so strong in his convictions that he imposes his will on his closest colleagues, especially when they disagree with him. For anyone wanting to learn a thing or two about Churchill, this movie is not a good place to start.
There is much good in the movie. Gary Oldman plays Churchill and it is certainly another highlight on an otherwise stellar career. He is simply transformative as the leader, embodying the man in every mannerism or vocalization of anything. Kristin Scott Thomas also plays a worthy partner as Clementine Churchill. The set pieces are good, the cinematography is good, everything in the movie is good. But Churchill is a man that seemed larger than life and took on a role that was unwinnable from the get-go and came away with one of the greatest careers any one person can only imagine.
Darkest Hour does not do Churchill justice as a person, but it is well. I wish I had more good to say about it.