Darkest Hour


Street 2/27/18;
Box Office $54.55 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some thematic material.
Stars Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn.

Darkest Hour is a solid character drama about Winston Churchill’s first few weeks as prime minister of Great Britain in 1940, as he was thrust into the chaos of the early days of World War II.

With Hitler on the verge of conquering France and setting his sights on England, Churchill must contend not only with his country’s rapidly deteriorating military position, but also calls for peace talks from within his own party — from the very people whose appeasement policies helped put Churchill in this difficult position to begin with.

The crisis comes to a head with the evacuation at Dunkirk, as Churchill is determined to rescue British troops despite long odds his plans can succeed. In showing what took place in the halls of British government as the soldiers waited on the beaches for a rescue, Darkest Hour serves as an interesting companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which hit theaters just a few months earlier and presented the point of view of the evacuating troops.

Gary Oldman practically disappears into the role of Churchill, aided by a complex body makeup to add age and girth. Numerous actors have taken a turn at Churchill over the years, but Oldman’s is likely to draw some inevitable comparisons with John Lithgow’s Emmy-winning take on Netflix’s “The Crown” due to the close proximity of the projects. While Lithgow is just as effective in portraying Churchill’s self-assuredness, temper and arrogance, there’s no mistaking it’s Lithgow. Whereas with Oldman it’s easy to get caught up in his performance, as really it’s only his eyes that provide the telltale reminder of who is actually up there on screen.

As far as comparisons go, however, Ben Mendelsohn is in a less-enviable position for his brief turn as King George VI, with both Colin Firth’s turn in The King’s Speech and Jared Harris on “The Crown” providing fresh points of comparison for performances as the king in earlier and later periods of his life, respectively. Mendelsohn, at least, has the advantage of somewhat resembling the real-life George, as noted by director Joe Wright in a solo commentary track included with the Blu-ray.

Wright’s commentary ends up presenting a nice mix of behind-the-scenes information and some insights into the real story. There are also two short featurettes: an eight-minute making-of video and a four-minute look at Oldman’s performance.

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