My Top 60 films - No 4: ' Darkest Hour' (2017)
Darkest Hour (2017) remains one of my favourite movies especially of very recent years and forms a trio of films that have British nationality and BREXIT as its backdrop.
Following the BREXIT vote in 2016 there were a succession of films such as Darkest Hour, Their Finest (2016) and of course Dunkirk (2017) which were all about the same extraordinary critical event in world history – that of the fall of France in 1940, where Europe had fallen, America had isolated itself (‘America First’) and it was Britain alone: does that remind you of anything? They were also incredibly successful as between them they accumulated over $750m of box office takings, so they struck an emotional chord amongst the cinema going public both in the UK and also in the USA.
Darkest Hour though is probably the better of the three although I am fond of them all. It was partly based on the memoir Mr Churchill’s Secretary, written by Elizabeth Leyton who was Winston Churchill’s personal secretary from 1941 to 1945 and tells the story of when Churchill becomes Prime Minister in 1940 and how he had to deal with the greatest threat we faced, that of Nazi Germany.
Gary Oldman of course plays Churchill for which he rightly won the Oscar as Best Actor- and as the great man he totally inhabits the role, thanks in part to the tremendous make up and visual effects team of Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick (also Oscar winners for the film), but also getting the balance right of a character who was vivid to say the least.
Lily James –before she played Meryl Streep’s younger self in Mamma Mia! – Here We Go Again (2018) – plays Layton who is initially scared of Churchill, but who becomes very proficient and soon becomes a confidante of the man. James is very good as the vulnerable secretary and through her we learn about Churchill and the stresses that he was working under. The film does not flinch from the conflicts that Churchill had with people and institutions. His relationship with King George VI is not an easy one because of Churchill’s previous support for Edward VIII during the Abdication, and politicians in his own cabinet distrust him for everything from his defection to the Liberal Party to how he performed when he was in the Admiralty.
But the film has a good heart. Oldman and Adams play off each other really well and there are some light moments as when she tells him that “where she comes from” (i.e. the working class), his two fingered salute means something totally different.
Criticism of Darkest Hour usually revolves around the scene towards the end of the movie where Churchill takes a tube to Westminster and gets involved in a discussion with working people about what he should do – should he continue the fight against the Nazi’s or sue for peace. Now although some critics struggle with this scene, I actually think it is the film’s emotional high point. Whether it happened or not in reality is not that important – it is more symbolic as you needed a way to highlight what the mood of the nation was at that time. And Joe and Jane Public give it to him straight!
So, I really rate Darkest Hour , apart from Churchill and the British nation, it was also Gary Oldman’s ‘finest hour’ and it’s not a bad history lesson either.