This year’s Coronado Island Film Festival, held last month, featured Darkest Hour, in which Gary Oldman portrays Winston Churchill, as its opening night film not only because there was already Hollywood buzz about Oldman’s performance, but also because one of Coronado High School’s most notable graduates, Lisa Bruce, is the producer of the film. As stated in some of my previous film reviews, I love anything having to do with World War II, a period of time which fascinates me because political leaders as well as ordinary citizens were forced to take sides, deciding whether they were going to ignore the gross injustice that was spreading like wildfire throughout Europe or instead help in any way that they could, even if it was something that seemed relatively small in the grand scheme of things, such as offering shelter to those trying to escape the Nazis. Whether it’s a movie or a book, when the subject matter pertains to World War II, I often find myself questioning how I would act in those most trying of times, hopeful my conscience would overcome my fears.
Knowing in advance that Gary Oldman has already been nominated for a 2018 Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, I was definitely eager to see Darkest Hour, which highlights Churchill during the greatest crisis of his political career. Along with my father, who influenced my love of history, we watched the extraordinary resolve Churchill exhibited as events unfolded with British forces trapped at Dunkirk. The decisions that Churchill faced as he weighed what was best were unenviable. While he was willing to fight ’til the death, others were pressuring him to negotiate peace with Germany. In the long run, what was best for the British people, and which decision would be the one his soul could reckon with ultimately?
Faced with the potential loss of over 300,000 British soldiers at Dunkirk, (essentially the whole British army), Churchill’s “Darkest Hours” occurred when he had to withstand the growing pressure to capitulate to those who demanded that the British negotiate peace with the Nazis while he remained adamant that it was preferable to fight to the death.
My father, who should have been a writer himself, was profoundly moved by Darkest Hour. After the film, he shared, “Oldman channels Churchill so effectively that the end result definitely isn’t a caricature. Rather, you get a portrait of one of the greatest leaders in the 20th century that is genuinely multi-dimensional: his profound strength of character, his many foibles, his absolute brilliance with the English language – and of course his incomparable wit.”
He continued, “Although the screenplay drags, which it does from time to time, Oldman enlivens virtually every scene.” Dad also pointed out that Ben Mendelsohn gave “an admirably nuanced performance as King George IV.”
Without spoiling a pivotal point in the movie, the Prime Minister’s purposeful interactions with ordinary British citizens was not only eye-opening from a historical perspective, it felt inspiring from a modern day perspective. How many of today’s leaders even attempt to remotely relate to the average Joes they represent, people from all walks of life and various socioeconomic backgrounds? I don’t know about you, but no one who represents me has ever bothered to ask me for my opinions!
While Churchill was passionate about the course of action Great Britain should have taken as his country prepared for the fight of everyone’s lives, not everyone in Parliament agreed with his vision. Rather than succumb to the peer pressure of his fellow government officials, however, Churchill instead exemplified true leadership, seeking out the opinions of those who had no official say.
As an avid fan of Netflix’s series The Crown, I already had minor glimpses of Churchill’s relationship with his wife Clementine, who was ahead of her time in terms of acting as a sounding board. I appreciated how she sacrificed her personal time with her husband for the public good, and I was pleased that their relationship was highlighted in Darkest Hour.
Was Churchill the perfect husband or father? No. Was he a role model or a pious soul? Not even close. While the film reveals that he was a chain smoker and borderline alcoholic, it also shows what a magnificently courageous leader and statesman he truly was. Personally, I gained greater insight into the idyllic combination of qualities and vices that made Churchill an exceptional leader, and wonder if that same combination would hold true in today’s political climate. If you love history, Darkest Hour is a must-see. The stories of great leaders are timeless and inspiring.
Movie times: click here
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Director: Joe Wright
Actors: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas
Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic material