This is one of my shortest reviews. I don’t feel much needs to be said about this film.
I was imagining this as a war movie. It’s not, or, at least, it is another kind of war movie; this is not about the trenches, about shooting jerries, or going over the top into smoke filled wastelands. This film is about Churchill, and the decisions he had to make. Not even for a moment do we leave Westminster to see the ‘other side’ of Churchill’s actions, the battlefields and all that. In that directorial choice is something quite unique: we receive an uninterrupted, focused account of the political choices that define war.
In that, Darkest Hour has a gravitas the like of which I have not seen before. War shots and battlegrounds are more immediately evocative, but there is something strangely powerful about this film. In a sense it is closer to home; it is hard to imagine oneself on the battlefield in WWII, but easy to imagine yourself as a civilian, eagerly waiting for Parliament’s choices; for news, for hope, for battle, and for protection against Hitler, and the monstrosities he seeks to impose on the world. There is something noble in seeing a man, a normal man, old, wearied, disliked by many, with the weight of the country on his shoulders; a man who is responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and the potential collapse of Western civilisation.
This film is powerful because of our world, too; we are, one way or another, at war with various countries or forces. In the months and years to come, we will rely on the kind of decent, honest, and morally justifiable leadership that Churchill offered at that time. And so, a final note on Churchill in this film; Gary Oldman’s performance is magnetic. I did not appreciate the full power of his performance until the film had finished and I asked myself: why did he win best actor? The answer came when I realised that, for the two hour run time, I could not keep my eyes off him. I cared about him. Everything in this film comes back to Oldman’s performance; every look, word, and mumble he gave was drenched in a gentle importance; every actor around him were like poles of a magnet – attracted, repelled, but always moved, one way or another, by him.