Following the appointment of Churchill (Gary Oldman) as Prime Minister he faces opposition from Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) due to his refusal to enter into peace negotiations as the British army is forced back to Dunkirk.
The biggest detraction to Darkest Hour that may or may not impact you is it being the third film on the subject matter in the last 8 months. Churchill arrived in June last year and gave us a sterling performance and a more fallible human Churchill. Dunkirk arrived in July last year and gave us a more visceral, politics free version of events. Darkest Hour is obviously more similar to the former than the latter, but I struggled to be engaged due to familiarity. Churchill (the 2017 film) covers the 3 days leading up to D-Day, presents his biggest opposition as the American and British Generals organising the event and focuses heavily on his previous experiences of Gallipoli as impacting his emotional state during this time. Darkest Hour covers approximately a month starting with his appointment as PM and ending with the Dunkirk evacuation, presents his biggest opposition as Chamberlain and Halifax wanting peace and tries to give us a more human impression of the man.
As a result I found myself constantly comparing, which is not a happy position with such similar films. Where Darkest Hour excels is in Gary Oldman’s performance. It is nothing less than outstanding, nailing Churchill’s barnstorming speeches and adding humanity in the quieter moments. Director Joe Wright who has previously shown us images of Dunkirk in Atonement does a great job of keeping his camera moving and swirling around which gives static scenes momentum and a sense of urgency. And the supporting cast is good. As well as Pickup and Dillane as Chamberlain and Halifax we have Lily James as secretary Elizabeth Layton, Kristin Scott Thomas as long-suffering wife Clemmie and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI.
But, no matter how good the performances and sense of urgency generated, I still can’t help but feel it is a case of a series of impressive speeches rather than an engaging story as a whole. I would hope if you have not seen Churchill yet that might not be the case for you.