Joe Wright / UK / 2017 / 125 mins
At Filmhouse Cinema from Fri 19 January 2018
There’s something thrilling about a true story on film, with the knowledge that most (or at least some) of what you’re viewing actually happened in real life – and this one is far more pertinent to all of us than the average biopic.
Darkest Hour covers a very short period in the life of Winston Churchill, but an intensely critical one in which he steered our nation’s course in the face of extreme adversity. There’s a great deal of warmth to the character as presented here, but he’s by no means two-dimensional. We see a man who’s short-tempered, abrupt and makes mistakes, but is also human, strong, principled and with a good sense of humour.
Gary Oldman pulls in an excellent performance: well-rounded, moving, nuanced and funny. This is a very personal portrayal of the war-time Prime Minister, as we see the man through the lens of his relationships and struggles. Kristin Scott Thomas too is expectedly good as his loyal, witty wife, reinforcing the concept that behind every succesful man is a strong woman. However, there’s something prolifically irritating about film casting in particular that is evident here: the use of beautiful people (particularly women) who look like models in roles that do not call for it. Lily James plays Churchill’s typist well, but as an “ordinary” London girl, it would have been more genuine to cast someone appropriately ordinary-looking and less perfectly-featured (especially in a film with gravitas that’s not an aspirational, frothy rom-com). This movie has so much to commend it in the way of acting, story, script and direction; it’s a pity to therefore fall back on old-fashioned and shallow choices, when realism is so much more valuable and needed in the industry.
Don’t expect the full life of Churchill in this film as this is just a snapshot of a lengthy war, but the detail is riveting. Thrust to the fore is the moral quandary of whether to stand firm and fight, or whether to attempt to negotiate with a dictator. There’s no watch-gazing from the audience during this involving and gripping story, the outcome of which has directly impacted all of us. Perhaps that’s why it’s so fascinating and equally heart-breaking – when presented with the dilemmas wartime leaders faced and the consequent human cost, we are all unsafe in the knowledge it’s not just a story.