Darkest Hour Blu-ray Review

Darkest Hour

As an Irishman, and particularly one undereducated in British history, my knowledge of Winston Churchill is limited to his famous quote about the Irish being a bit odd as they refuse to be English.

Fortunately, Joe Wright’s latest film, is on hand to shed more light on the man. Darkest Hour is released on DVD and Blu-ray this week.

As with most political biopics these days, the film provides a window on a critical period in the subject’s life, rather than the cradle to grave structure of certain other biographies.

We start in May 1940, just before Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister. These are the early years of World War II and Chamberlain’s resignation is sought. Chamberlain reluctantly puts forth the only man the opposition parties will accept as his successor: Winston Churchill.

Tellingly, our introduction to Churchill occurs as he sitting upright in bed at home, lighting one of his trademark cigars. We know that this film will be a portrait of Churchill the Man as much as Churchill the Politician.

The action then follows Churchill’s appointment as PM and interaction with King George VI, right through Operation Dynamo and culminating with the now legendary ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech.

Along the way, the film focusses on Churchill’s battles with himself and his fellow politicians, as much as his campaign of resistance against the Nazis.

The title of the film is taken quite literally: most of the proceedings are shrouded in darkness. From the Houses of Parliament to the cramped war rooms, the gloom is only punctuated by flickering bulbs and the occasional shaft of sunlight.

And wattage from the performances of course.

Gary Oldman, snagging an Oscar for his interpretation of Churchill, rises above the age-old Oscar rule which dictates that any donning of unflattering prosthetics is guaranteed to yield a golden statue; his performance is so much more than that.

A natural chameleon, Oldman here enjoys the added benefit of make-up to complete the transformation into Churchill. Complemented with a well-studied vocal impersonation, the actor fades into the background and we are left with a captivating and mercurial central performance.

Kristin Scott Thomas’ Clementine Churchill initially promises to play a bigger role but is ultimately partly sidelined in favour of Lily James as secretary Elizabeth Layton. Both performances are strong and prove effective foils to the different facets of Oldman’s Churchill.

The supporting cast is rounded up solidly by Stephen Dillane as Lord Halifax, and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. The former is portrayed as Churchill’s main adversary in Parliament and the shouting matches between the two are riveting.

Mendelsohn has both a speech impediment and an English accent to contend with, and just about pulls it off. The scene where he visits Churchill towards the end of the film is a standout.

The film does not manage to cover all aspects. In this age of mental health awareness, it would have for example been interesting to focus on Churchill’s well-known bouts of depression. This appears to

be a casualty of the film’s already-ample running time, and is at least inferred when Clementine comforts her husband by pointing out how inner struggles make us stronger.

There are also some missteps with scenes such as the much talked about ‘underground scene’, intended to be symbolic but feels a touch mawkish and at odds with the recounting of many real life events.

History buffs may debate accuracy but if you are willing to overlook artistic liberties, this is a solid wartime drama with memorable performances, particularly from Oldman.

Conor Brennan

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