Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Darkest Hour’

Darkest Hour ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th February, 2018

Darkest HourJoe Wright’s somewhat fictionalised biopic of Winston Churchill (a tour de force by actor Gary Oldman, unrecognisable beneath remarkable prosthetic makeup that convincingly brings back to life Britain’s war-time bulldog) recounts the tense weeks of May 1940, when the Germans were sweeping west across continental Europe and the bulk of the British army was stranded on the French coast. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister who had declared Peace for Our Time after meeting Adolf Hitler in Munich two years earlier, was ousted but it was by no means inevitable that Winston Churchill would succeed him as Leader of the Conservative Party, as he had quite a lot of inconvenient political baggage, too, including several years as a defector to the Liberal Party and, more damningly, ownership of the disastrous Gallipoli landings in the First World War. In Anthony McCarten’s powerful screenplay, Chamberlain and the Foreign Secretary, Viscount Halifax, are pitted against Churchill as proponents of peace negotiations with Hitler, to be brokered by Mussolini. Churchill gambled to stand and fight instead, saved by the successful evacuation of most of the 300,000 men from the beach at Dunkirk and the power of his own rhetoric, which roused and united the nation as well as the House of Commons. But the key to the success of Darkest Hour is the delicate balance between the bluster and bullying of the politician Churchill with the self-doubt and vulnerability of the man that existed behind the facade. Winston’s three important relationships in the film are with his wife Clementine (convincingly played by Kristen Scott Thomas), King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) and his young secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) — all sensitively handled, at times with humour that pricks the tension of the dramatic times. Visually, the film is sumptuous, the atmosphere enhanced by Joe Wright’s characteristic tracking shots of Londoners going about their daily business. There is an almost dream-like sequence in an underground carriage when Churchill sounds out ordinary people as to whether they are ready to resist to the death. I found that jarred rather with the realism of most of the rest of the footage. But the evocation of determined national spirit will wow many cinema audiences during our own period of a different kind of political uncertainty. And Gary Oldman’s towering performance largely makes up for any historical shortcomings.

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