Courage! In the Darkest Hour

If it’s inspiration you need in this dark political season in our country’s life, then you need to go see Gary Oldman’s tour de force performance as Churchill at the crucial moment in 1940 when Britain had to decide whether to go to war with Hitler, or sue for peace, and knuckle under to the Nazis. In other words, this movie is one that should have been released before Dunkirk, and actually you should see those two movies in that sequence first Darkest Hour, then Dunkirk. Both of these movies are very moving, and I would compare Oldman’s performance to that of Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. It is very difficult to convincingly portray a titanic historical figure like Churchill, and Oldman has pulled it off. Amazing. Many will not know, since they may only know Gary from films like The Fifth Element or the Book of Eli, that he is British, 5’9″ and 59 years old. He is the right height, he already knows the spectrum of British accents, and despite the amazing prosthetics nothing seems phony. Indeed one should see the King’s Speech first, since the stuttering King plays a crucial role in the Darkest Hour, and then this film, and then Dunkirk. Kudos also go to Kristin Scott-Thomas, who is fabulous as Churchill’s wife, Clementine. I was mesmerized, thrilled, wept for the 125 minutes of this film and wanted more. This is what real acting looks like.

Now as for the approach to the material by Joe Wright, he has chosen an interesting angle for the cinematography. By this I mean he uses slow motion a good deal, and bird’s eye view from above quite a lot, so the film feels more like an impressionistic painting of those crucial five weeks, rather than giving one the feel that ‘we are there with Churchill’ which is the sense one gets with Lincoln. And of course much of the film is in shadow, in the evening, in the wee morning hours, underground in the ‘bunker’. The cinematography conveys the sense of the ominous nature of the situation, and the dread produced in facing incarnate evil.

I saw this movie with quite a few WWII and Korean War veterans, and I can tell you, they were moved, as was I. There is a great line, when the only thing that Churchill had immediately to fight Hitler with in 1940 was words, where after his decisive speech to Parliament someone asks— “What Just happened?’ and it is said “Churchill has launched the English Language into battle and it is speeding towards the enemy”. Yes indeed. As the King says, Churchill was the man for that dark hour, the one man Hitler truly feared.


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