Film Review: Darkest Hour (UK, 2017) is a celebration of Churchill’s war of words

Winston Churchill was a leading writer and orator. So it should come as no surprise that Darkest Hour, a new biopic about the British leader sees the usual guns and weaponry synonymous with wartime films replaced with words, glorious words. While the story is not the most necessary one (as it has been told countless times before from varying perspectives) this is still a handsome and convincing portrait of a formidable Prime Minister and his involvement in a pivotal point in history.

Darkest Hour is directed by Joe Wright (Atonement) and written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything.) Rather than being a fastidious and completely truthful retelling of a few weeks in May 1940, Darkest Hour instead takes the entertaining route by taking liberties with actual events. In some cases this can be the fodder for jokes and quite often adds much-welcome colour and depth, but the most note-worthy fictional scene involves Churchill catching the Underground. While he is “there” he does a straw poll of some hard-working, British citizens and while this gives him a relatable, common touch the truth is- it simply did not happen.

Something that did actually happen was the political power plays and strategizing that is depicted here in a lot of detail (this film could have actually been shortened and it wouldn’t have lost much of its flow.) Gary Oldman is unrecognisable here as the titular character. He has recently been nominated for a Golden Globe and his performance is so good that it is likely to be a serious contender at the Oscars. He is transformed by make-up artist, Kazuhiro Tsuji into a jowly, powerful and cantankerous leader. Churchill is the famous politician who became Prime Minister after Neville Chamberlain was run out of the British Parliament.

Churchill was always going to be in for a rough ride. King George VI (an understated Ben Mendelsohn) was reticent about the appointment as were some of Churchill’s fellow politicians (it has to be said that Churchill made his fair share of mistakes during the First World War.) There is also the matter involving the completely unenviable and difficult decision that Churchill has to make about whether to negotiate with Hitler with respect to brokering a peace treaty or to rally the nation together to fight against some incredible odds. It is fortunate that Churchill was so stubborn, steadfast and inspiring in his galvanising of the nation (his famous speech is immortalised here in the film’s most intense and visceral scene.)

The roles of the supporting actresses in this film are rather under-realised. Kirsten Scott Thomas is great as Churchill’s long-suffering wife even though she’s only used in a handful of scenes. Lily James meanwhile, plays Churchill’s bright-eyed secretary who often receives wrath from her hard task-master boss and his vile temper. It is commendable that Churchill is shown not in a rose-tinted form but as a human with strengths and weaknesses alike.

For those fans wanting to see a more militaristic style-film then Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is yours for the viewing. But for the other cinemagoers who want to see a multifaceted portrait of the few weeks that made Churchill then Darkest Hour is your perfect vehicle. This dramatic and historic bio-pic is a handsome look at a character who may have been divisive but there is no denying his significant contribution to the history books.

Review score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Darkest Hour hits cinemas on 11th January