Darkest Hour covers Churchill’s first month as British Prime Minister, a role he is reluctantly thrust into after Parliament’s dissatisfaction with Neville Chamberlain’s inaction in response to the rise of Hitler. It’s May 1940, and Hitler has just steamrolled through France, is threatening to invade the British Isles, and the Allied army is surrounded and trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. Simply put, if the 300,000+ Brits on the Dunkirk beach are wiped out, their military will be non-existent.
There have been so many movies about this era—you really can’t find more despicable bad guys than the Nazis. When the Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) suggests a peace treaty, initially you’d think that it might not be such a bad idea… except that the treaty would be with Nazi Germany and it would be brokered by the Italians. Hindsight is certainly a good thing, but Churchill had to go with his gut (and the will of the people), and make the decision to launch his country into war to protect the homeland.
The cast all around is very strong, with Ben Mendelsohn as the smart and patriotic King George VI, Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s silver-haired wife Clementine, and the seemingly ubiquitous Lily James as his loyal secretary. We even get to see some “regular folks” in a scene so cinematically rousing that it may as well be an outtake of the locker room scene in Rudy: Churchill decides to take the London Tube for the first time in his life to check on the mood of Londoners, leaving everyone star-struck and ready to fight the Germans. The scene is as charming as it is a little corny.
But the movie belongs to Oldman. He is jowly, mumbly, and has the world on his stooped shoulders. Director Joe Wright has made a movie about political negotiations which is surprisingly more exciting that I thought it should be. Anyone who has seen Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk (a perfect double feature with Darkest Hour), knows how it all ends, but the wheeling and dealing, and hugely difficult decisions made to make that miracle happen are truly mind-blowing. It would all seem that it was made for the movies, except that it all really happened. One country’s Darkest Hour unwittingly ended up serving as great inspiration to generations that followed.