While the shores of Dunkirk waited, the fate of the world was decided.
In late May of 1940, the Battle of France forced Allied soldiers back to Dunkirk against the sea. With Nazi forces threatening to invade the Britain herself, newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is tasked the impossible: to turn the tide. Set up to fail and with political enemies on all sides, he must choose between negotiating the surrender of Great Britain with Hitler or inspire the nation to defend their island… whatever the cost may be.
The word “blitzkrieg” comes to mind when recalling how close all of Europe came to falling to the Third Reich, something modern viewers may never fully understand. Joe Wright, director of several films including the excellent Hanna, is no stranger to period pieces. With fellow chameleon actor Lily James as Churchill’s secretary and Kristin Scott Thomas as his wife Clementine, can a heavily made-over Gary Oldman emote the terror and strength behind making a decision affecting millions of people for generations to come?
Does an Academy Award for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” answer this question? After a lifetime of amazing roles, this is what it took for Gary Oldman to finally receive his long overdue recognition: disappearing into yet another character… only this time of someone who actually lived. For all the shortcomings of this film, it’s a fascinating look inside the war room of a former empire considering actual surrender in the face of insurmountable odds… and what it takes to overcome them.
As if deciding whether or not to throw oneself into the jaws of a lion wasn’t enough, Darkest Hour is also a not-so subtle reminder that ruling-class politics are an ever-present plague of self-interest, even at the end of all things. It’s also an amazing viewpoint directly in contrast to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk; while the idea that these two films could somehow be blended into one giant narrative is tempting, but that they are presented separately is much preferred. Anyone looking for an evening of poignant movie-viewing showcasing all aspects of a single historical event can’t go wrong with a Dunkirk/Darkest Hour double-feature.
Overlong and perhaps even over-dramatic in parts, Oldman’s Oscar-winning performance is the glue that holds everything together. Having already seen Dunkirk, one can’t help but wonder who is more cowardly: deserting soldiers seeking ways out of a losing battle, or leaders securing their own wealth betraying those who actually fought?
Darkest Hour is rated PG-13 for some thematic material and a damn good cigar.
Three skull recommendation out of four