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Tagline: “Never, never, never surrender.” And true to that mantra Joe Wright has continued to churn out awards bait films in defiance of the reality that much of his output is frankly, style over substance.
Premise: The country has lost trust in its leaders, as Hitler and his army Blitzkrieg their way across Europe, the country turns to Winston Churchill. He in turn must choose whether to negotiate with Hitler or obstinately refuse to play ball.
Delivery: Joe Wright is a man whose films have always screamed, “awards please”! The man's been a devoted stylist since he got his first Technicolor boner; occasionally guilty of lacking the substance to match. That's not to say he's bad, some of his films are very good, but there's something so desperately critic pleasing about them that they may as well be love letters to BAFTA. That grates with me at times. However Wright’s eye for a shot works wonderfully in Darkest Hour, a film which lacks cinematic set pieces to the point that it could almost be a play. Wright and DoP Bruno Delbonnel add visual flair, and alongside some great performances, this elevates the film beyond the sum of its parts.
Gary Oldman will no doubt collect a few awards for his performance as Churchill, and rightly so as he and the prosthetic team do excellent work together. For those surprised that Gary Oldman can convincingly play a man of more advanced years than himself, he's always been able, the clue is in his name. His Winston Churchill is portrayed as perennially pissed in Darkest Hour. I'd be remarkably brave on half a bottle of single malt for breakfast too! Churchill had a long and decorated (crimson, mostly) history of blithely sending proles to their death, so it was never really a hard decision for the tanked up PM, which does detract from the tension. That and, y'know, knowing what he's going to decide.
What was interesting, joking aside, was seeing quite how much pressure was put on Churchill to actually accept Hitler’s terms. For all the breakfast drinking, history of poor decision making and sexism, he pulled a rabbit out the hat by sticking to his guns and the winning of the war. If at first pig headed stubbornness don't succeed, stick at it for 35 years until eventually it does. The Americans eventually showing up also helped too, of course, but they’ll never remind you of it because they're a classy bunch. If Churchill had folded at the early point shown in the film, the American’s arrival would have been redundant, and we wouldn't have to listen to their bleating*.
Darkest Hour also made me think a bit about what it means to be British. I grew up being told the British, or rather English, are the unbowed, the strong, the indomitable. My Nan, love her, explained I should never be scared to tell the Spanish they'd cooked my meat wrongly because I was English. I'm not entirely, neither was she, and I actually like my meat rare, Nan. It’s this attitude which is both frustrating and quite admirable which sits uneasily with me at times, for a number of reasons. Despite that, watching old Winston plough full steam ahead like an arseholed Admiral with blinkers on makes for entertaining viewing.
Bedsit it: Darkest Hour is well worth getting out to see, how factually accurate it is I don’t know, but I enjoyed it, despite the conflicting emotions I felt about my British identity. The film is given an extra dimension by some flashy directing, good performances and great makeup, Darkest Hour is a solidly entertaining piece of cinema. 7/10
*"But at what cost, Adam? At what cost?!"