Although both films are about a small, plucky bunch looking for a way to defeat a dark force that can often seem undefeatable, this is not a remake, or connected in any way, to the 2011 film starring Emile Hirsch. That was called The Darkest Hour, you see, and this is just called Darkest Hour. Although I am all for some crossover in the future that sees Churchill and co. fighting against invisible alien invaders.
Yes, in case you weren't already aware, this is a film about Winston Churchill, arguably the most famouse Prime Minister in history, as well known for his cigar-smoking and portly figure (think Hitchcock with a bow tie on) as he is for his quotes and speeches, with one in particular being the event that this whole film revolves around.
Directed by Joe Wright and written by Anthony McCarten, this is a slight step down for the former and a slight step up for the latter (can we all agree now that The Theory Of Everything, the previous film written by McCarten, wasn't THAT good?). About as solid as you can get, in terms of detail, performances, and the oh-so-Britishness of it all, there's no denying that the events shown here are very important, in relation to both Britain and the shape of the modern world, but it can be very hard to make the dusty, archaic environment of Westminster seem lively and cinematic. Let's face it, the general public have often seen snippets of political debates on TV and wondered how many of the MPs present could be diagnosed with early onset rigor mortis.
Thankfully, the cast help to make this more watchable than it otherwise would be. All the praise being heaped on Oldman, always worth your time in movies, is justly deserved. He's absolutely brilliant in the main role, nailing the attitude and determination of a man who, at times, had everyone rooting against him. Kristin Scott Thomas is supportive and good enough as Clementine, AKA Mrs Churchill, but she's given very little to do. The same goes for Lily James, playing a young secretary/worker who is given a second chance after an initial meeting with Churchill that doesn't go well at all. Faring much better from the script are Ben Mendelsohn, giving yet another superb performance as King George VI (that there fella who was the focus of The King's Speech), Stephen Dillane, and Ronald Pickup (playing Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister preceding Churchill). Politics was very much a boy's club back then, and this is reflected in the characters involved in the main strands of the story as it all winds towards THAT speech.
It's a shame that other aspects don't work as well as the performances. The script has a lot of great dialogue to work with, as you would expect, but falls down somewhat when trying to emphasise the pressure on Churchill, and the momentum that he needs to build in parliament. And a couple of weightier moments are resolved in a way that somehow feels like a bit of a half-hearted shrug. Despite the runtime just creeping over the two hour mark, it feels as if this is a film that could warrant an extra 15-20 minutes, but then you have to wonder if that would make the whole thing feel like a painful crawl. Wright does a capable job, doing what he can to keep things respectable while also engrossing and entertaining. There's just one or two elements that hold this back from being a great movie, despite that lead performance towering over everything.
Worth your time, as long as you know exactly what type of film you're getting. Just don't go into it expecting a reworking of that Emile Hirsch movie.
Order the bluray here.
Or, if in America, here.