Darkest Hour

The biggest crime Joe Wright commits with Darkest Hour is reducing Churchill to a caricature.

There is a scene late into Darkest Hour where Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, takes the Underground on his way to Westminister. He gets to interact with the general populace, and be absolutely charming while doing so. In this scene, more than any other, Gary Oldman shines as the performer he is. It is also the only scene where we see Churchill in a light that was less represented in his public image. If only director Joe Wright had been more inspired by this side of Churchill (and Oldman) rather than the dramatic barking persona he portrayed during his public speaking appearances, the movie would have made for a fascinating observation into the lesser known side of Churchill, even while he faced the nation’s “darkest hour”. Instead, what we get is a little over 2 hours of watching a Churchill impersonation precisely as he was widely known and imagined, to make for one of the most tiresome biopics of recent times.

Darkest Hour starts with discussion of who should be the new Prime Minister of UK amidst World War II raging in Europe. Once elected, Winston Churchill has to go about winning the war, as well as the favour of the Monarch, the cabinet of ministers and the public.  As depicted in the movie, the only real adversity he apparently faced was from two people in his War Cabinet, apart from his own uncertainties.

Perhaps the biggest crime Joe Wright commits with Darkest Hour is reducing Churchill to a caricature. The movie is more concerned about how Churchill is portrayed, instead of exploring how he was as a person. We are barraged with his famous quotes, presented as punchlines. Even though he is a fine actor, Gary Oldman’s goes over-the-top for a theatrical performance here decked in excellent prosthetics and costumes, in stark contrast to the recent sublime portrayal of the same character by John Lithgow in Netflix’s The Crown.

Darkest Hour’s intended-to-be-rousing finale is Churchill’s famous speech to the cabinet of ministers. Even this was better represented in Dunkirk (and in context) when, towards the end, one of the surviving soldiers reads aloud a newspaper reprint of Churchill’s speech. That best describes what Darkest Hour really is: a movie only concerned with fitting into a genre and fulfilling an external purpose, i.e. Oscar bait.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆


About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.