We shall fight on the beaches—A review of “Darkest Hour”

by The Collected Mutineer

In a day and age when leadership seems to lack eloquence, political prowess, and true patriotism, words become even more important than ever before. Words have vast power over people’s ideas, emotions, and actions. They can tear down, or lift up. They can cause wars, or prevent them. They can alter people’s futures for the better or for the worst. Words have the power to change the world. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword, as some old white guy Edward Buller-Lytton once wrote.

It seems fitting, then, for a film like Darkest Hour not only to be made but to have earned such critical acclaim. Nominated for six Academy Awards, Darkest Hour is a reminder of how one man’s words kept a nation not only afloat, but alive and fighting during World War II.

Before I begin, I think it’s important to mention that the main character of this film, Winston Churchill, is widely regarded as one of the most influential, and even the greatest, figures in history. That being said, he was by no means perfect. Yes, he said and did lots of wonderful things—but he also said and did lots of not-wonderful things. In many ways, he was a far cry from what we might deem to be politically correct in the 21st century. In the words of Peter Harris, “Winston Churchill was neither a saint nor a sage. He was, instead, a mere mortal, responsible for committing numerous acts of ill-judgment over the vast span of his career. This is true when evaluating Churchill both by modern standards and by the yardsticks of his own day and age. No political leader—not even the most lionized among them—is without flaw.”

Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright and starring an unrecognizable and transformed Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, is an exploration of a matter of days in 1940. The world is on the brink of war, and British Parliament is in desperate need of a Prime Minister capable of standing up to the Nazi onslaught across Europe. Although he is deeply unpopular among most of the MPs, Winston Churchill is offered the position upon the recommendation of the previous Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. Churchill takes the job, knowing full well what awaits him. (He had previously warned the British government about the true threat of Hitler’s growing power and was proven correct after the invasion of Poland.)

You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in it’s mouth!

Despite his years of experience, Churchill’s role as Prime Minister is off to a tremendously rocky start. The majority of Parliament expect him to either stand down or make a grave error; the king doesn’t like him; and what’s more, he refuses to do what his closest advisors want: broker for peace with the Germans. But when disaster strikes the soldiers in France, Churchill’s determination to save their lives at Dunkirk and his ensuing speeches bolster the spirits of the British in the face of almost certain invasion.

It’s hard to avoid spoilers with a film of this nature, but suffice it to say that Oldman’s performance is one for the ages. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is that it straddles the blurry line between not glorifying Churchill’s errors and emphasizing that he was the right man—the only man—for the job at that moment in time. It displays his triumphs the way they ought to be remembered. It is a movie about the power of belief, the sheer beauty of the written and spoken word, and the ability of one man to become (if only for a moment) the heart of an entire nation.

Not only are the script, acting, and makeup transformations flawless, but other highlights include the sweeping score by Dario Marianelli and the costume design by Jacqueline Durran. The audience becomes immersed in vintage London, well-acquainted with the war rooms, and did I mention how Oldman pretty much IS CHURCHILL?

via IMDB

Does this movie deserve some Oscars? I believe that it does. But what I believe even more is that this is the movie that many of us need right now. Alongside films like The PostDarkest Hour is a historical drama that provides current commentary on the state of the world. It reminds us of our mistakes and our triumphs. Let us not forget the words of George Santayana… “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Almost sounds like something Churchill would have written, doesn’t it?

Darkest Hour is still in some theaters, and will be available for purchase on February 27, 2018.