They say World War II delivered the greatest generation – a compliment bestowed upon those who served in the war because of their bravery. And while this is undoubtedly true, their tales of war have produced great cinema. In fact, one might even dub World War II movies the most celebrated genre. In the past six months, there have been two movies released on the topic. The films – Dunkirk and Darkest Hour – have been critically acclaimed. The most recent release, Darkest Hour, may very well be one of the greatest World War II biopics of all time.
On February 27th, Darkest Hour was released on DVD. Gary Oldman, portraying Winston Churchill, won the 2018 Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
In Darkest Hour, the biopic chronicles revered British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It centers on the struggles Britain faces in its battle against Hitler and Nazi Germany. The setting predates the United States involvement in the European theater of the war.
The film has a fantastic cast. In addition to famed actor Gary Oldman, the film also stars Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, and Ronald Pickup.
Darkest Hour is an exhilarating and inspirational story. Based on factual events, the movie begins at the precipice of World War II. Shortly after becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill is faced with the challenge of ensuring the survival of the United Kingdom. He must face one of his most tumultuous and challenging ordeals. After Britain suffers a series of defeats, Churchill must decide whether to explore a negotiated peace treaty or remain firm and continue to fight against the evils of Nazi Germany. As Hitler’s unrelenting forces dominate across Western Europe and threaten invasion, Churchill is faced with a daunting task. Whatever choice he makes will forever change the course of history. Additionally, with the pressure of immense public fear, a skeptical King, and his own party conspiring against him, Churchill must endure his “darkest hour.” He must rally a nation and stand firm in his decisions to ensure the survival of his country.
Darkest Hour is a compelling film. All World War II films typically have a sense of patriotic reverberation, as a story of good versus the evils of Nazism. However, very few go into the personal world of the protagonist the way Darkest Hour does. For example, in one of the opening scenes, Churchill scolds a female staffer for not following his instructions. Subsequently, a later scene shows Churchill being reprimanded by his wife for this. His wife, Clementine, portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas, reminds him to “be nice to others.” This delivers a metaphorical message of constant criticism of Churchill as well as female empowerment. His wife’s guidance and influence affect how Churchill interacts with others. This personal depth is something this film delivers that previous World War II, John Wayne-esque, rah-rah movies of past generations do not.
Churchill’s flexibility proves to be one of his most significant assets in the film. Clementine enables this flexibility. Thomas’s Clementine has a limited number of scenes, but they are delivered with a fantastic magnitude of influence on Churchill’s character. A subliminal nod to female empowerment, this flexibility was presented as a primary reason he was able to build a coalition government in this time of crisis.
Incidentally, the plot is filled with dramatic irony. In one scene Churchill is portrayed as a willing collaborator. In another, the film depicts Churchill as a man of conviction. Darkest Hour paints him as the sole politician willing to go against the philosophy of appeasement established by his predecessor. Churchill’s defiance and willingness to declare war against Hitler “at any cost,” a position garnering almost no support by his fellow British leaders, is depicted as a solo act. His heroic stand, built up during the first part of the movie, is an integral part of the film. When so many wanted to seek peace and did not want to repeat the atrocities of the Great War, there stood Churchill alone, advocating for war and conflict even though he realized what they entail.
The film overlaps somewhat with the other World War II drama released this year, Dunkirk. While that movie was also critically praised, I was not a fan. Dunkirk, a product of Oldman’s fellow Dark Knight trilogy alum, Christopher Nolan, was not as inspiring as Darkest Hour. It was also not as entertaining. In fact, I was utterly bored during that movie. Hollywood magazine, Variety, sums it up best:
“Whereas Nolan’s Dunkirk so thrillingly illustrated the military rescue at Dunkirk, all but banishing Churchill to a newspaper article read aloud at the end of the film, Darkest Hour spends nearly every scene at the prime minister’s side — except for the first couple, during which Churchill is dramatically absent, represented only by the bowler hat left behind in his empty seat in the House of Commons.”
For me, one of the main differences between the two films was the sense of struggle that Darkest Hour offers the audience. This sense of struggle, conflict, and urgency was not delivered to me in Dunkirk. Perhaps because it lacked a central protagonist, Dunkirk doesn’t convey the imminent threat of defeat Europe faced. Darkest Hour emphasized the dire circumstances that faced Western Europe and how freedom hung in the balance of Britain’s decisions – at least until the United States arrived.
If you are a fan of World War II movies, then Darkest Hour is an absolute must see! A gritty and inspiring film, it was a microcosm of the war within the conflict against Nazi Germany. Faced with significant bloodshed in battle or being sacrificed on the altars of Britain’s political elite, alone stands Churchill. An inspiring movie, Darkest Hour will leave you with goosebumps as you view freedom and liberty’s hellish obstacles in the early days of the European theater of World War II.