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Darkest Hour (2017 film): John C Adams Reviews

Show name: Darkest Hour

Release date: 2017

Genre: Historical Drama

Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James

Directed by: Joe Wright

Studio: Universal

Length: 125 minutes

Rating: 5/5

Winston Churchill has become synonymous with Britain’s war effort during the second world war.

His stoic speeches, ability to motivate people and good judgement on which policies were needed galvanised the British nation.

Darkest Hour is set during May 1940, when Churchill (Gary Oldman) has just been made Prime Minister.

He doubts his ability and is beset with depression, but his wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) and their children are there to support him.

He is also joined by a new secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).

The UK was lamentably unprepared for war and had previously followed a policy of appeasement encouraged by outgoing PM Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Foreign Secretary Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane).

As Churchill took over, the German army had already swept across eastern and central Europe. Belgium and France were about to fall.

Faced with the urgent need to evacuate British troops from France, Churchill decides to sacrifice the garrison at Calais.

He hopes that the loss of four thousand men will enable the 300,000 British troops at Dunkirk to escape back across the English Channel.

The difficulty is how to arrange for the evacuation, which is eventually achieved with a combination of British naval vessels and almost a thousand Little Ships.

The latter came from all corners of the British Isles, some being requisitioned and crewed by the navy. Many more were sailed across by their regular crews and owners, including many pleasure craft.

In the end Operation Dynamo, as it was called, evacuated 338,000 soldiers and support staff from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk.

Churchill battles his depression alongside pressure from his own party to negotiate a peace deal with Hitler.

Darkest Hour joins a range of films about the Dunkirk evacuation and early months of the war. Its uniqueness stems from its focus on Churchill, his family and inner circle.

Gary Oldman’s performance was superb. I really felt like I was looking at Churchill, partly due to voice and mannerisms, movement and costume, but also due to the use of makeup which filled out his face and give him the much more rounded physicality we associate with Churchill.

Oldman won an Oscar for Best Actor, and Darkest Hour won six Oscars overall including Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design.

I loved the film. It was moving in its focus on Churchill and his secretary Elizabeth (whose brother is missing and doesn’t make it to Dunkirk for the evacuation). It remained tightly focused on Churchill’s personal challenges with Chamberlain and Halifax, with occasional other scenes about how Operation Dynamo was being arranged by the navy.

This tight focus gave Darkest Hour plenty of dramatic tension and emotional veracity. The Dunkirk story is fascinating and has frequently been told on screen. Darkest Hour adds an additional layer to that cinematographic history by letting us share the innermost thoughts and emotions of two people closely connected to it.

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