Do you think I can copy my opening to my Churchill review and get away with it? No one really cared about that movie because it was the millionth retelling of the story of Winston Churchill, a man who has had so many actors play him it’s less of an honour and more of a duty. So how do you get people interested in a Churchill movie in 2018? Do you get big names to play him? Well that’s been done? Do you try and tackle different parts of his life? It’s a theory but I doubt many would care about his defections between the Conservatives and Liberals in the early 1900s. So what do you do? Well, do what Darkest Hour did I suppose.
With the opposition being unhappy with the performance of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) as wartime leader, they demand and get his resignation as Prime Minister. His replacement is Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) but with him refusing to even think about having peace talks with the Nazis, many plan are already planning to force him out as soon as he becomes the leader.
So in what was an amazing twist, the way Darkest Hour is making us interested in Churchill films again is by doing what so many other movies of this type does. Show Churchill in the height of World War 2. What works works I suppose. But seriously, it’s amazing that a movie that follows Churchill in one of the most documented parts of the war that garnered all the buzz. Perhaps it’s because it does challenge some of our conceptions. Because none of us can remember GCSE History, we sort of assume that Churchill became Prime Minister, made a lot of speeches and we rallied to win the war. We forget that it was still incredibly tough and that there were people that were working against Churchill. So perhaps it’s because it’s showing his fragility in his position and not just his mind, which is a common theme in his films, which is why it created a buzz. It’s a good choice to focus on this and the politicking is the best part of the movie.
I’ve already made a sly dig at Churchill and I will make that less sly now by saying simply, it was a bad film. The main problem was having Churchill as a protagonist saying we shouldn’t do D-Day and expecting us to agree to him when we know that it was a massive success. So all the ranting he does gets to be tiresome because you want to tell him how it’s actually going to be key to winning us the war. Darkest Hour actually follows in a similar vein except instead of it being Churchill being against D-Day, it’s Churchill being against talks with Hitler. Which is a simple but very effective change because while Churchill is still ranting a lot, it’s kind of his thing, you back him because you know this is the right thing to do. It makes your prior knowledge into a strength of the movie rather than a weakness. It makes the movie much better to get through as it makes Churchill a much more compelling protagonist in this film rather than in last year’s effort.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to talk about Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill. This is what is going to make the movie after all and it’s already being revered as a great one with it winning an Academy Award a while back. And it is indeed a superb performance with Oldham doing his damn best to play a man thrust into this position at possibly the toughest time to become Prime Minister. He revels in doing Churchill’s famous and even his less famous speeches and he gets the volcanic anger he was infamous for perfect. But there is a problem. His voice. While you do get used to it, Oldman’s voice just doesn’t seem right. It feels off because it’s so different from the voices we usually get for Churchill. Instead of the gravelly has a glass of whiskey every six horus voice, we get Oldman’s attempt at a gravelly voice but often ends up squeaky. So his performance can be as much as a distraction as it is a benefit to the movie.
Now some of the criticism that has been laid at this movie is because it hails Churchill as a hero despite the many bad things he did in his life. I feel like that this is very unfair because for one, it’s a snap shot of a certain part of Churchill’s life and not a judgment of his entire life. And I imagine you’ll find very few people who will disagree with the fact he refused to talk with Hitler. It’s also unfair because the stuff that people criticise Churchill for, namely Gallipoli and India, is a plot point in the movie. The reason that many doubt Churchill’s ability to be Prime Minister, including King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is because of his actions and views on those topics. So it’s not a completely whitewash. There is an element of complaining for the sake of complaining in this.
Though time to be hypocritical because while I do like this movie a lot, there is just something missing from it and I’m not sure what. So yes, after criticising other people’s criticisms I’m going to be vary vague with my own problems with the movie. Have fun in the comments with that one. I hate it when I have this problem with a movie the most because it’s so hard to write about and often when I have this issue I leave it out of the final review because of that. But for me there is just something lacking that doesn’t make it as impactful as it I want it to be. I think I wanted Churchill to have a final moment of glory over his internal enemies, something that is a pay-off for all the backstage politicking we see. What we get is a final speech which is great, but just a little different from what I wanted.
Darkest Hour though is one of the best depictions of Winston Churchill during the war despite these issues. I wish Oldman’s voice was better, and I know he worked hard on trying to get it right so I feel cruel criticising that part, and I wish it had it’s pay-off on screen rather than in the text at the end of the movie. But even with that, there are great performances from everyone in the cast and it’s definitely an interesting look at the government in a part of the war where it seemed like we were going to lose. So yes, watch it in the cinemas, watch it at home, watch it wherever you can and no surrender to those who say it’s another bad Churchill movie. Wow, I properly butchered that famous quote. That’s me retiring.