Plot: As France falls to the German forces and Britain faces catastrophic, imminent losses, faith in the standing prime minister has fallen and as such a replacement is soon to be named. Despite a troubled past, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) emerges as the obvious candidate, mainly due to the fact that he is the lone acceptable choice, in the eyes of the opposing side of the government. Churchill assumes power when Britain is on the brink of losing most of its military forces at Dunkirk and most of his peers seem to think negotiating peace is the solution. He is steadfast in his distaste of such a peace accord, but he feels immense pressure and even self doubts, as some of his past decisions have been disastrous. As time passes, he makes some risky choices and buys some time, but a concrete decision must be made. As tensions mount and his leadership is called into question, how will Churchill respond?
Entertainment Value: Darkest Hour is a powerful movie, one that turns words into kinetic presence on the screen, as the movie has little in terms of action or war scenes, but still manages a potent impact. Churchill’s rise to power at such a dark, landmark moment is an exceptional and worthwhile narrative and here, it is told in a fair, candid fashion. Churchill isn’t painted as a peerless leader or some kind of genius, but a driven man who was willing to make the tough choices, even when the fate of an entire nation was in his hands. The movie evens makes a point to illustrate how his flaws and mistakes helped shape his mindset and perspective, which is a crucial element here, as it keeps him in that human viewpoint, not some action hero or idealized figure. I don’t think I’d call him an ordinary man by any means, but he was just a man, plunged into one of the more extraordinary situations in recent history and he was able to rise to the tasks he was charged with. As a dialogue driven drama, this movie delivers much more tension and kinetic pace than you might expect.
The movie relies heavily on the presence of Gary Oldman, who is able to bring across an excellent performance, even under a wealth of makeup and other physical gimmicks, to help him look the part. Oldman nails the cadence of Churchill, mumbles and all, able to convey both the stubborn side of the leader, as well as the more vulnerable aspect, no simple task. I don’t know if I would rank this as his best performance ever, but he does vanish into the role and it certainly is one of his finest efforts. While he commands most of the attention, Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas also turn in great work and add a lot to the movie. Also of note here are Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup, and Nicholas Jones. In other words, this movie boasts a deep and talented cast, all of whom bring the heat here. I do think the deliberate pace and emphasis on dialogue will lose some viewers, but that’s just the nature of this kind of material. I found it to be very brisk, as the dialogue feels active and the sense of dread that hangs over the movie ensures tension is never lessened. A well crafted, excellently performed movie, with a shining effort from Gary Oldman.