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Darkest Hour Joins Dunkirk as Compelling WWII Cinema This Year

<i>Darkest Hour</i> Joins <i>Dunkirk</i> as Compelling WWII Cinema This Year


Gary Oldman is a likely Oscar contender with his portrayal of Winston Churchill. Plagued by public failures and private doubts, Churchill faces an uphill battle—not his last, but one of the fiercest. Political intrigue abounds in this true story of how WWII almost had a very different ending. 3.5 out of 5.


As Hitler marches inexorably across Europe, another battle is raging in the halls of Parliament. Newly-minted Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman)—elderly, cranky, and unpopular—is all for holding the line against the Nazis. Meanwhile, members of his Cabinet are fighting to negotiate peace. The public is clueless, the King is skeptical, and his own party is plotting against him. With virtually the entire British army trapped at Dunkirk and Great Britain expecting imminent invasion, Churchill faces the dilemma of the century: fight or surrender?

What Works?

These days we think of Winston Churchill as practically a caricature: a bulldog with a baby face who spouted clever quips and inspiring speeches. Oldman disappears into Churchill in a thrilling performance that shows us the man behind the public persona: a cranky, principled, insecure curmudgeon. This Churchill is a flawed human with a checkered past who's determined to do the right thing. The trick is knowing what that "right thing" is when the way is not necessarily clear.

Churchill's longsuffering wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) charms with equal parts feistiness and tenderness. It would have been nice to see more of the Churchills together. Ben Mendelsohn is an understated King George VI with some of the best lines in the movie, quite a feat in a story about the much-quoted Churchill.

What Doesn't?

The camera pulls back from a close shot, sweeping out and up until we're looking directly down at the scene below. It can be an effective technique—Kenneth Branagh used it to good effect in Murder on the Orient Express—but here Joe Wright overuses the device. It worked the first, I dunno, five or seven times? But by the end of the movie when the point of view started to shift I couldn't help but roll my eyes and think, this again?

Lily James—who seems to turn up everywhere these days—is charming enough as a young stenographer sent to record the great man's words, but her story falters toward the end and never quite recovers. It's almost as though the scriptwriter meant to come back to her, but got distracted along the way.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

At its core, Darkest Hour is a story about integrity. Is it ever right to lie for a good cause? Should one group be sacrificed to save another? Given a choice, what is the lesser of two evils? When should you listen to counselors, and when do you stand against them to do what you believe to be right?

Churchill briefly speaks of his father who "like God" was busy. It's not a compliment.

One character lies about being interrupted "reading his Bible."

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic material
  • Language/Profanity: Surprisingly mild. Several uses of the British epithet “bugger,” da**, and a reference to (literal and figurative) sh*t. The Prime Minister unknowingly makes a rude gesture which is later explained as meaning "up your bum."
  • Sexuality/Nudity: None, though Churchill warns a young woman through a closed door that he's about to emerge "in a state of nature," allowing her time to scurry away before he appears. We only see him from the knees down. A man is discussed as having syphilis.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: Some scenes of war and casualties of war, but the verbal battles are more intense than anything else. Churchill barks and snaps and scares the pants off most of his colleagues, including his king; his sometimes violent outbursts could frighten fragile viewers, but it’s not likely.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Winston smokes constantly and is rarely more than an arm’s length from a drink, even at breakfast. In keeping with the time and setting, many others also drink and smoke (to a lesser degree than the Prime Minister).

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: History buffs, anglophiles, political junkies, and anyone interested in a true-life story about a moment when the fate of the world really did hang in the balance.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Younger viewers (the story will go over their heads), and those who prefer physical punches to verbal assaults.

Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright, opened in limited theaters November 22, 2017, wider December 8. It runs 125 minutes and stars Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn. Watch the trailer for Darkest Hour here.

Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).

Publication date: December 7, 2017

Image courtesy: ©FocusFeatures