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Darkest Hour


Darkest Hour is the story of Winston Churchill’s “never surrender” speech and the dire Second World War circumstances that prompted it.

Set in 1940, the year of Britain’s greatest peril from the Nazi menace, it boasts a towering lead performance by Gary Oldman. The film brilliantly complements Dunkirk, the year’s other great war movie.

Darkest Hour lionizes the power of words and the strength of convictions. Yet it is a woman, not a man, who arguably delivers the defining statement of this well-crafted historical drama by Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice).

It’s the scene midway through where Kristin Scott Thomas’ Clemmie Churchill, a figure of grace and resolve in a maelstrom of political and military tensions, consoles her husband Winston, Britain’s prime minister.

Facing the imminent Nazi annihilation of 300,000 Allied soldiers stranded on the Dunkirk beaches, and beset with challenges from pacifist members of his party and War Cabinet, Churchill has started to doubt his ability to rally Britons for the fight against Hitler. He’s failed before, in other wars, but Clemmie won’t tolerate his second-guessing and self-pity.

“You are strong because you are imperfect,” she tells him. 

“You are wise because you have doubts. From this uncertainty the wisest words will come.” Churchill’s many imperfections, and his words both wise and not, are very much the focus of the artful screenplay by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything).

Not for the first time is the “British Bulldog” depicted as a man of extreme temper and excessive habits, the latter including a fondness for alcohol and tobacco that worries all who know him.

Yet Oldman brings a wicked wit and compassionate heart to the role, one for which he seems almost superhumanly suited for — and that’s really saying something, consider how many great actors have played Churchill.

True to history and instinct, Oldman fully convinces as a flawed man who is perfectly capable of focus and good judgment in times of crisis.

His secret weapon is his mastery of the English language, and theatrical manner of speaking, which allows him to reach across the radio airwaves to stir the masses in ways that few politicians then or now could.

The non-verbal aspects of Darkest Hour also impress. Bruno Delbonnel’s fluid cinematography, in concert with Dario Marianelli’s dynamic score, sculpts light and shade to make art out of even the most mundane scenes of backrooms and bedrooms.

Members of the stellar supporting cast speak volumes through their facial expressions: witness the withering disapproval of uptight king George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) and Churchill’s conspiring rivals Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane); and the love/hate reactions of Clemmie and secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) to Churchill’s impatient demands.

But when the time comes for Oldman to deliver Churchill’s immortal “never surrender” speech to Parliament, all eyes and ears are upon him, as they should rightfully be.

Courtesy: Peter Howell, Toronto Star

Virtual cinema: 

No screenings currently scheduled.

Directed by: 
Joe Wright
Running Time: 
Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas
Official site: 
Screenplay by: 
Anthony McCarten

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