Darkest Hour gives Gary Oldman a turn as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, after Brian Cox’s Churchill last year, but with Oldman as the man at the time of the Dunkirk evacuations, so incredibly portrayed last summer in Christopher Nolan’s IMAX epic, Dunkirk. Nolan’s film was quite a visual feast, but Cox’s turn has rather been trampled underfoot, even though it’s slightly better as a whole than this latest movie.
With everyone sick of their current incumbent, Neville Chamberlain – given Hitler’s progress in Europe, Churchill seems to be the only one that all sides will either like, or at least, put up with for a while.
Darkest Hour is quite a mixed bag, so let’s deal with the good stuff first. Oldman makes for quite an amusing Churchill, although rather better than I was expecting, given that he doesn’t really look like him, but a lot of make-up has helped with that. That said, there’s even a time, just after his first radio speech, when he looks more like the stretched face of Lady Cassandra in Doctor Who‘s episode, The End Of The World(!)
As he agrees to become Prime Minister, King George VI arranges the day they’ll meet each week, suggesting Mondays at 4pm, to which comes the reply, “I nap at 4pm”. The King asks, “Is that permissable?”, and Churchill wryly responds, “No… but necessary. I work late.”
Plus, later, when told he has to reply to the Lord Privy Seal, he retorts from the loo, “Tell the Lord Privy Seal… that I am sealed in the privy! And that I can only deal with one shit at a time!”
Ronald Pickup is also quite wonderful as Neville Chamberlain, making up part of Churchill’s war cabinet, the rest of his opponents mostly scowling a lot.
And now the downsides…
It’s so bloody ponderous, and really makes the Dunkirk ‘Operation Dynamo’ drag big-time, even though when we get to that point once we’re at war, the score briefly attempts to keep the tension up with its constant beat. In fact, too much of its overlong running time goes into the nitty gritty of the war – who will be allies of Britain, who will help broker peace between Britain and Germany, and so on – and it all just makes it drag so much.
Then, when a young woman meets Churchill late on in the film, in the London Underground, she curtsies as if he’s royalty, yet would anyone do the same for David Cameron or Theresa May? Not if they’re sane.
In fact, there’s a scene where he meets a great number of members of the public in one location, and they all look at him as if he’s the Second Coming. I don’t know if it happened in reality, but it feels like some sort of fantasy sequence where the film jumps the shark. To that end, the credits do say that some of the scenes have been fictionalised.
Watching this not too long after both Churchill and another World War II-set movie, Their Finest, when you see the underground tunnels at No.10, it does feel like I’m watching the same film crossing over each other, and you keep expecting them to walk onto each other’s sets.
Historians will probably love this, but if you enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and are thinking this will be an engaging companion piece to see Churchill’s side of things, you’re sorely mistaken.
The trailer makes it feel like far more of a comedy than it actually is – especially with Oldman’s bellowing line, “Will you stop interrupting me while I am interrupting you?!”, since once it gets to the halfway point and starts to focus on Operation Dynamo, it really gets bogged down in the nitty gritty, and quite boring, which is exactly what Nolan’s Dunkirk managed to avoid.
Running time: 125 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures Int (UK)
Format: 1.85:1 (ARRIRAW (3.4K))
Released: January 12th 2018
Director: Joe Wright
Producers: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten and Douglas Urbanski
Screenplay: Anthony McCarten
Music: Dario Marianelli
Winston Churchill: Gary Oldman
Clemmie: Kristin Scott Thomas
King George VI: Ben Mendelsohn
Elizabeth Layton: Lily James
Neville Chamberlain: Ronald Pickup
Viscount Halifax: Stephen Dillane
Sir John Simon: Nicholas Jones
Sir Anthony Eden: Samuel West
Clement Atlee: David Schofield
General Ismay: Richard Lumsden
General Ironside: Malcolm Storry
Arthur Greenwood: Hilton McRae
Sir Samuel Hoare: Benjamin Whitrow
John Evans: Joe Armstrong
Air Chief Marshall Dowding: Adrian Rawlings
Admiral Ramsay: David Bamber
Admiral Dudley Pound: Paul Leonard
President Roosevelt: David Strathairn
Tom Leonard: Eric MacLennan
Sawyers: Philip Martin Brown
Cabinet Secretary Bridges: Demetri Goritsas
Randolph Churchill: Jordan Waller
Diana Churchill: Alex Clatworthy
Mary Churchill: Mary Antony
Sarah Churchill: Bethany Muir
Pamela Churchill: Anna Burnett
Lord Stanhope: Jeremy Child
Lord Kingsley Wood: Brian Pettifer
Lord Londonderry: Michael Gould
House of Commons Speaker: Paul Ridley
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.