In Brief: Darkest Hour is a history lesson but like many history lessons, this one is boring.
Darkest Hour is a biopic about British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s first few days in office. The first thing I thought of when I saw the film is the night Churchill died. I was 14 and prone to staying up all night on Saturday nights listening to music and to the radio.
I remember the news bulletin and listening to commentators talk about Chuchill’s life. Being a student of World War II at the time likely had something to do with the memory. Churchill impressed me as a kid as one of those great leaders chosen for a specific task at a specific place in history.
This is the story of how his significance in history began.
Last comment. Why I’d remember that particular night with such clarity is beyond me. And why I’d remember that night all through a movie about Churchill’s early days in office is also mind-boggling. But remember it I did.
A porked-up Gary Oldman does Churchill who assumes office as Adolph Hitler and the Nazis have British and French troops pinned down at Dunkirk. Some in the government want Churchill to appease Hitler and come up with some sort of diplomatic settlement.
He can have Europe just leave us alone is the message sent to Churchill by many politicians and a lot of the people of Britain.
Churchill — as history notes — didn’t fold. Darkest Hour shows how difficult it was for Churchill to balance duty to country with duty to humanity with the duty he had to the people of his country. All of it comes to a head in one of the film’s best and most human scenes when the prime minister connects with the people.
That scene worked. Big time. Not much else does.
Darkest Hour has potential for a terrific conflict but it never quite gets there. The all star cast — Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James and others — manage to save a plot that lacks any kind of tension or real drama and that has just one great scene.
Clearly the movie belongs to Oldman. His Churchill is a deeply flawed human being with an alcohol problem that adds to his odd lifestyle. Oldman waddles through the movie mumbling most of his lines. His sometimes tortured performance works.
He is getting deserved raves for his acting but Darkest Hour is tremendously flawed and suffers from a sleep-inducing script by The Theory of Everything writer Anthony McCarten and the snail-paced storytelling of director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina, Pan). Both Wright and McCarten work hard to make their movie work. It does in places but not everywhere.
Maybe an edit or two to drop the length to 90-minutes from a bit over two hours would have helped. Or maybe — like Dunkirk and since it is a British film — this is a movie that only the people of Great Britain can relate to since it is their history. I can give this a positive rating but with an asterisk. History buffs will find the inside look into Churchill’s decision-making informative and maybe even entertaining.
The rest of you might not be as impressed and may end up ignoring Churchill’s most famous statement to “Never, never, never give up” and give up on this one. An hour into the movie and I did.
Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. This is an historical biopic that works on the acting level but not much in plot and story execution. Give this a barely positive rating at a 3 out 5 five on the Average Joe Movie 0 to 5 scale.
5 to 4 1/2: Must see on the big screen.
4 to 3 1/2: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 to 2 1/2: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 to 1: Don’t bother.
0:Speaks for itself.
Gary Wolcott has been a movie consultant for KXL since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 25-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.
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