Directed by Joe Wright
The politically correct “Darkest Hour”, showcasing a memorable performance by Gary Oldman as the UK’s former prime minister Winston Churchill, is a weighty and eloquent historical drama film about a visionary leader whose ideas were not always well accepted or understood.
Director Joe Wright, an expert in period dramas (“Pride & Prejudice”, “Atonement”, “Anna Karenina”), returns to the right path after a terrible experience in the family/adventure genre with “Pan”. Teaming up for the first time with the screenwriter Anthony McCarten (“The Theory of Everything”), the filmmaker assures that his conversational ‘war’ film flows with an assertive and coruscating narrative.
In 1940, when the allies were attempting to strategize a plan to face the European invasions of Nazi Germany, the then British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), considered inapt by the opposition to defend the kingdom, resigns. It’s his right to point out a substitute, and his preference falls in Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), who declines the offer. The only man tailored for the position that is available is Winston Churchill. However, instead of passive measures based on negotiations with the enemy, he vindicates a risky yet ambitious counter-attack plan to deal with the situation, which is particularly delicate in the French cities of Dunkirk and Calais, locations with stranded British troops. For him, in that specific case, peace means weakness, and therefore, he is ready to fight tooth and nail to convince everyone that his strategy is the most adequate.
Offering nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat, the confident Churchill, who despite irascible in his speech can be very humorous, takes his responsibility seriously and manages to make the skeptical King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) a believer of his cause, as well as the entire Parliament.
Despite counting on the support of his wife, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), and the professional dedication of his new typewriter, Miss Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), of whom he grew a special fondness, Churchill has some difficult moments in which he almost disintegrates emotionally. Wright’s proficient visual sequences effortlessly display this human frailty, as genuinely as he portraits his fiery political side. The camerawork is precise if expeditious at times, moving from one face to another with a glorious sense of inquest.
Gary Oldman, giving an Oscar-worthy performance, has the perfect command of his role, even when the scenes are not so incisive, like when Churchill decides to make contact with the people in the London Underground.
“Darkest Hour” is, in truth, a polished war film where the action is purely wordy. And it worked!