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Wick's Review

Created Dec 31, 2017 12:56AM PST • Edited Feb 09, 2018 01:46AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Great 4.0

    Instead of The King’s Speech, Darkest Hour is The Prime Minister’s Speeches, Churchill’s speeches at the outset of WWII. It fixates on Sir Winston’s galvanizing addresses to Parliament and the British people during the darkest hour for the UK, and for all of civilization. His words ignited the resistance, worldwide.

    The King’s Speech trod nearby ground, focusing on how King George VI addressed the British people during Britain’s darkest hour, with Churchill a peripheral player. Unlike his Majesty, words came naturally to the wartime Prime Minister, and thank god almighty they did. Hitler’s defeat began with these cadences:

    I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

    We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the streets; we shall never surrender.

    If the British Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’.

    Brainy screenwriter Anthony McCarten and erudite director Joe Wright sagely show us Sir Winston through the eyes and fingers of his personal secretary, the redoubtable Elizabeth Layton. She persevered through the Prime Minister’s countless demands and mercurial outbursts. It was through her fingers that his stem-winding speeches were memorialized on paper, and through her eyes that we see him give them voice.

    Lily James is wonderful as Layton, while Gary Oldman is rightly being called an Oscar shoe-in for his Winston Churchill. Many have played the inimitable Churchill, with John Lithgow doing a creditable turn right now on Netflix’s The Crown, but Oldman burrows deep in the psyche of the man on whom everything depended. It’s a remarkably absorbing performance, by turns vulnerable, daring and bold. Bravo old man!

    Now, let’s turn to politics of the 2018 variety. Many current Harveywood historical dramas purport to be thinly veiled allegories of the Trump presidency, with The Post from Spielberg, Streep & Hanks the latest. But, whaddya know? Darkest Hour might have the best claim to that position. Oops, inconvenient truth!

    Intended or not, Darkest Hour offers clear parallels between the early days of the Churchill government and the Trump presidency. That’s not to say that President Trump is of Churchillian stature, just that both Winston and the Donald were unexpected to head their governments, unlikely even, were reviled by their establishments, were rude, and possessed a mean streak. The similarities are considerable, and obvious.

    Don’t let that keep you from seeing Darkest Hour, for goodness sakes, though Trump Derangement Syndrome may ruin the movie for committed members of the #Resistance. For the rest of us, Churchill’s Darkest Hour is a beacon of light for how courage – and wit – can face down even the greatest of evils.

  3. Really Great 4.5

    Wikipedia lists dozens of actors who have played Sir Winston Churchill, including John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Brendan Gleeson, Rod Taylor, Christian Slater (????), Albert Finney, Bob Hoskins and Richard Burton.1 Now Gary Oldman tops them all, the definitive Churchill. Not overwhelmed by the near Planet of the Apes facial appliances he wore, Oldman conveys the unchained intellect and deserved arrogance of a historically unique man.

    • Kristin Scott Thomas sparkles as the bright and beautiful Clementine Churchill. Theirs was a terrific marriage, with most of the work falling to her. Scott Thomas is the rare actress up to playing such a vivacious British lady.
    • Ben Mendelsohn is a revelation as King George VI, he of the near tragic stutter. We’re used to seeing Mendelsohn play scoundrels and wastrels, not a square-jawed monarch doing his understated duty.
    • Lily James is brilliant as usual playing Churchill’s private secretary Elizabeth Layton. American beauty in Baby Driver last year, here she brightly plays a British heroine in her native accent.
    • It falls to Ronald Pickup to play Neville Chamberlain, the man who’s name has come to mean callow appeasement. Similar duty falls to Stephen Dillane, as Lord Halifax, the appeasement oriented Foreign Secretary.
    • Richard Lumsden makes a weak impression as General Hastings Ismay.
    • Samuel West likewise makes a weak impression as Churchill’s right hand man, Sir Anthony Eden.

    1 Cultural depictions of Winston Churchill

  4. Male Stars Perfect 5.0
  5. Female Stars Really Great 4.5
  6. Female Costars Perfect 5.0
  7. Male Costars Really Great 4.5
  8. Great 4.0

    Screenwriter Anthony McCarten and director Joe Wright made a terrific decision to focus their film on a narrow slice of the Churchillian oeuvre. Stephen Spielberg made a similar choice in his narrowly focused Lincoln, even if he gave that film a more expansive title.

    Darkest Hour is best seen after three films that cover the same territory from different vantage points.

    • The King’s Speech: Four Oscars, including Best Picture, were awarded to this perfect film, one that is historically fascinating from several angles.
    • Atonement: Joe Wright also directed this tragic romance, which included a bracing Dunkirk scene. Three Oscar nominations followed.
    • Dunkirk: The mother of all Dunkirk movies is Christopher Nolan’s IMAX extravaganza from earlier this year.
  9. Direction Great 4.0
  10. Play Great 4.0
  11. Music Good 3.0
  12. Visuals Really Great 4.5
  13. Content
  14. Tame 1.5
  15. Sex Innocent 1.0
  16. Violence Fierce 1.9
  17. Rudeness Polite 1.5
  18. Glib 1.3

    This biopic stays mostly on the straight-and-narrow, reality wise. However, the London Underground scene is apparently fictional. Storytelling hijinks aside, Darkest Hour holds many reality lessons. To wit…

    Hitler is a name rashly tossed around these days, almost always in error. Why? The real Führer is on the short list of history’s most evil and destructive men, the Holocaust being only one part of his butcher’s bill.

    Fortunately, this movie isn’t about the supervillain, but about the superhero who led the resistance. Quite deliciously, Churchill beat Hitler with words as much as war-machines. Does it get any better than that?

  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.8
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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