<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn
Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes
“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” – Winston S. Churchill
In a time when good leaders are in short supply and the world is going down the shithole, it is no wonder that this film and its lead character is getting a standing ovation in theatres.
One of the greatest British Prime Ministers, Winston Churchill was the man who wouldn’t make ‘peace’ with Hitler and instead chose to fight till the end. How did he become PM and what were the struggles that he endured? Darkest Hour gives us an intimate look into the lonely and sometimes loony world of the loving ‘pig’.
Being PM in the days of World War II was quite different than being the leader of a modern nation today. That’s something I was keenly aware of while watching Darkest Hour. Apart from a chauffeured car, the PM didn’t have an entourage or motorcade. He sat in a little room in a war bunker and dictated notes to his new secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James). He was alone for the most part except for his loving wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) who was his only support. Most other people either despised him or feared him or thought he was an alcoholic idiot. How wrong they were.
His thrill at being the PM didn’t overshadow his resolve not to let the British people down. But his only weapon was a keen sense of the English language and unmatched oratory skills: he was known for his rousing speeches. That, and his wit and ability to laugh at himself.
At first you’re not quite sure of the lanky Gary Oldman as Churchill. Wonderful make-up and prosthetics aside, his voice and manner probably don’t lend themselves to this character. In the first scene you’re keenly aware of Oldman behind the face paint. But gradually, he disappears seamlessly into his character. What he lacks in a sharp mind he makes up for in vigour. His bark is worse than his bite. Young Miss Layton finds this out very quickly as she soon becomes his trusted companion and emotional support at the times his wife isn’t present. Lily James, in my opinion, has brought a lot to the film. She’s the emotional centre, the conscience and the innocence of humanity that is so easily lost in the games of politics and madness of war.
The moments to remember:
There’s this scene where Churchill is alone in a small room talking to the US President Franklin Roosevelt, who is less than helpful and almost mockingly dismissive of the PMs request for help. It is in this moment that you realise how dark and grave this period was for the world and Britain as they saw the probability of their freedom being destroyed.
There’s another moment where Churchill is dictating to Miss Layton and starts to mumble. He notices a man’s photo on her desk and as she tells him the story of her loss they both tear up. So do you.
Darkest Hour isn’t just a historical account of what happened in the events leading up to the rescue at Dunkirk (insert Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk in to the scene in this film and it fits perfectly!). It is a sensitive look at the man who knew that any peace with Hitler – something that Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) and the previous PM Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) wanted – would lead to the kingdom’s subjugation. He may have initially been out of touch with the people but his willingness to get to know them was a sign of a man who was never too old to learn.
Darkest Hour can count as a respectable telling of the world’s history and a wonderful portrayal of one of the men who helped engineer it.