After a powerful burst of oratory, a character in Darkest Hour says of Winston Churchill, that he has “mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.” In spite of many other films on Churchill, Joe Wright’s fine, if by-the-numbers, historical, puts the former PM of the United Kingdom on a pedestal. It was a tough time for Churchill to be handed the reins of the country being battered by Germany in World War I. The grumpy, cigar-smoking hard drinking Churchill — played magnificently by Gary Oldman — knows he is not the popular choice; if Viscount Halifax (Stephane Dillane) had accepted the post after the ill Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) was ousted, he would not have got it.
The film does not go into Churchill’s life before 1940; it just focuses on the months between him becoming PM, and saving the country’s soldiers from being slaughtered at Dunkirk — the event that got full play in Christopher Nolan’s film last year.
Wright portrays him in his popular “bulldog” image — he is pugnacious, and quite lacking in charm; his wife Clementime (Kristin Scott Thomas) and later, his secretary Miss Layton (Lily James) seem to humanise him. The stress of leading the country at a time like that does affect him. Halifax is pushing for a peace negotiation with Hitler, using the intervention of Italian leader, Mussolini, which would have been crushing for Britain. Churchill orders civilian boats into action for the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk, the unorthodox plan that actually turned the course of the War.
But he is cowering in tears when King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) visits to offer support. Then, Churchill rides the underground (a totally fictional sequence) and talks to the common people, who give him hope and encouragement; they make him sure of his course of action — never to surrender. His thunderous oratory then convinces members of Parliament and overturns the cynicism of the War Room.
One might question the reason for yet another film on Churchill, but this one has been such a crowd-pleaser and award-bait, that it has silenced criticism. Handsomely mounted and beautifully shot, Darkest Hour is one more in the still growing list of WWII films, but more than that, perhaps a film that a currently politically battered, post Brexit Britain needs, to boost morale.