The majority feel that Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) will ascend to the role, but his reluctance opens the door for Churchill's nomination; a decision that concerns a lot of stodgy old men with handkerchiefs, but will live on in history as one of the most important when we look back at how the Allied forces would eventually defeat the Hitler regime.
But none of this works without the performances, most notably the powerhouse that is Oldman. As Churchill, Oldman blusters and harumphs his way throughout the halls of British landmarks with a fiery vengeance. The transformation, complete with added midriff and sagging jowls, renders Oldman indistinguishable from the man we'll inevitable see strolling many a red carpet in the near future.
Something that stands out is how Oldman does so much with his eyes. He is capable of piercing the soul in one moment, and expressing a deep kindness in the next with the very same glance. He is equal parts steadfast in his resolve and a very tired old man, bearing the weight of a proud nation, if not the hopes of an anxious world, on his broad shoulders.
The film continuously hammers home the insurmountable odds faced by the British forces, most of which are stuck upon the beaches of Dunkirk, France; both unable to evacuate and unlikely to survive against the much powerful German army pinching them against the sea.
Churchill, unwavering in his resolve toward victory, summons private boats to sail toward Dunkirk to bring the boys home. The story of the little ships of Dunkirk is well documented, and was the focus of one of 2017's most acclaimed films, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. More on that in a bit.
Churchill was also keenly aware that if he were to fly against the prevailing Parliamentary wishes, he would have to earn the trust of the British people. In a scene I enjoyed, but not fully sold on, Churchill descends into the London subway and engages with common folk, secretly checking the pulse of the people's resolve. I'm not a historian, but I assume this never happened, so while I thought the scene interesting, it also felt inserted as a means to an end, in that THIS encounter with eight strangers riding the Tube would be the deciding factor for which Churchill would stand his ground.
What lacked for me was an emotional connection. There was no real character to latch onto. Sure, the scenes of thousands of men serving as fish in a barrel are distressing, but I also know how this story ultimately ends, so I was looking for some reason to care. It lacked heart for me, yet I begrudge no one who found a deep connection with it, and there are plenty who did.
Darkest Hour, for me, made Dunkirk a better film. It filled in a lot of the context I felt Dunkirk lacked, and raised the emotional stakes that never resonated with me in Nolan's film.
In Darkest Hour, during a wide shot of the little boats racing towards the beaches of France, it transported me to the small ship piloted by Mark Rylance in Dunkirk. A character and scene that did little to inspire me at that time was now a connecting point; one in which I now understood the immediacy and severity of thanks to Darkest Hour.
Another scene, in which Churchill's appointed typist, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), shares with Churchill that her brother was a casualty of the war, provided a strong emotional connection to Dunkirk. Now I had a significant human face on that beach. I finally saw how this battle was impacting the lives back in Britain, which Nolan mostly ignores until the final frames of his film.
If nothing else, enjoy it for everything Gary Oldman brings to the table. He is the heart and soul of the film and provides plenty of award worthy moments to absorb, and by default, gives us a lot of conflicting ideals to wrestle with?
History says Churchill was right, but would his strategies work in modern day context? Do current politicians even concern themselves with the will of the people; something which Churchill knew was essential.
Like Churchill's legacy, Darkest Hour will endure.
4.5 out of 5