Two! That makes two Winston Churchill movies in a year! What’re the odds?!
So yeah, the first Churchill movie this year was… well, CHURCHILL (2017), starring Brian Cox. While you can read my review to see the full spectrum of what I thought, brief sum up of that film, I honestly don’t remember too much about it. I remember that the film wasn’t well received and is clearly not memorable, even to me, but I remember not having too many problems with it personally. In fact, I remember liking it enough.
For those of you that don’t know, I’m not historically savvy. History was among my weakest subjects… actually, school in general was my weakest subject, but if there was a subject that really disagreed with me, was history. I know very little about Winston Churchill. From the brief research that I did for the previous film, the takeaway that I got was that the man is a pretty controversial figure. Some claim him a hero, some claim him to be a murderer. Hell, full disclosure, I don’t even know what it is that he did that made him to divisive. After reading my review of CHURCHILL, I know he was somewhat against Operation Overlord, but not to the degree depicted in the film. I honestly have no idea. Something’s telling me it’s not even one thing that he did, but rather a string of events that garnered such a checkered opinion. Either way, I’m… pretty apathetic. Everything that happened when he was around was before my time. Yeah, I’m that jaded with history, but it’s clear that the man was important as there’s at least seven or eight movies about him now and I doubt this film will be the last.
Well, fast forward to today, good ole Winston’s got himself a new movie, this one getting the opposite reception, even garnering high praise that it’ll get an Oscar nom. Well that’s a hell of a turn around, isn’t it? The story doesn’t seem too different from the previous film. It’s showing that he wasn’t the most popular figure among his peers. He was personable, charismatic, arrogant, disagreeable, outspoken, all that good stuff.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have the living legend himself, Gary Oldman (THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD , and HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN ), Kristin Scott Thomas (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE , and the upcoming TOMB RAIDER ), Lily James (BABY DRIVER , and upcoming films LITTLE WOODS  and MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN ), and Ben Mendelsohn (STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE , and upcoming films READY PLAYER ONE  and ROBIN HOOD ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Joe Wright, known for HANNA (2011). Penning the screenplay is Anthony McCarten, known for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014), and the upcoming BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018). Composing the score is Dario Marianelli, known for KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016), V FOR VENDETTA (2005), and the upcoming PADDINGTON 2 (2018). The cinematographer is Bruno Delbonnel, known for MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (2016) and HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2009). Finally, the editor is Valerio Bonelli, known for FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016).
Overall, not excited, but giving it the time of day. I’m a fan of Gary Oldman, I like Lily James and Ben Mendelsohn as actors, I’m sure it’ll be fine.
This is my honest opinion of: DARKEST HOUR
Set in World War II. Parliament has been dissatisfied with the way Prime Minister Chamberlaine (Ronald Pickup) has been helming the war. After being strongly asked to resign, a replacement has been debated. Despite the reservations, it was decided that the controversial Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) would be the most suited candidate that would appeal to both political parties, and it doesn’t take long for Winston to start causing waves, specifically when the 300,000 soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk need to be saved, but everyone wants Winston to consider peace negotiations with Hitler, something Winston is vehemently against.
It’s good. It’s really good. But… yeah, political and military thrillers aren’t always my cup of tea to hold my interest the entire way through. Simply put, there’s stretches of time where I got a little bored.
But I can’t deny that there are tone of great things in the movie. The first thing that I fell in love with was miss James, arguably making this my favorite film her best performance to date. In the span of a single scene, specifically her intro scene where Elizabeth meets Churchill, she runs the gambit of nervous excitement, humor, and among so many other emotions. She starts off in awe of what she likely perceives as a great man, and then immediately gets to work typing his speech. At the same time, the old man has flashed his balls at her when he wears a bathrobe, to which her reaction is so minimal, but utterly hilarious. But it doesn’t take long for his attitude to humiliate her and cause her to run out of the house. The way this scene is shot is so brilliantly directed that you quickly see her getting flustered and quickly break down in tears, it’s a terrific intro to both characters.
In fact, that’s one of the better aspects of the film: its humor. I remember a fun line where Churchill’s staff is trying to comfort him that seeing the King once a week, whom doesn’t like Churchill very much, is still compared to “Getting one’s tooth pulled every week.” I remember another scene where Churchill announces to Elizabeth that he’s coming out of the shower in the nude and Elizabeth barely has enough time to process or react to the comment, so she’s scrambling to run downstairs. The audience doesn’t see anything, but a between the legs shot gives us enough reason to agree with Elizabeth’s urgency. My absolute favorite moment is after reporters asks for a comment about the war from Churchill and he throws up a V sign, to him signifying “victory,” as a picture is taken. But later on, when his gesture is in the newspapers, everyone is snickering and it takes Elizabeth to tell him that his V sign is facing the wrong way, facing inward as opposed to outward. While he thinks he said “victory,” he doesn’t realize that he accidentally gestured, “Up your bum,” to which he howls with laughter as well. Friggin’ loved that.
Other great things is the great cinematography, seeing a bombed out battlefield transitioning into a pan back of a dead soldier’s open eye; that was beautiful. Marianelli’s score is epic. And there are a ton of great and powerful scenes. And of course, Oldman gives his all and despite certain elements to his make-up, which I’ll get to in a minute. He’s charismatic, charming, and ridiculously engaging.
With all the good that there is, I have to say that I did have a couple of problems with the movie.
The first issue, which I had when I saw the trailer, Oldman’s make-up was… unconvincing. While I won’t say that I could see where the fake skin starts and ends or anything like that, I can’t deny that it still looks obvious. The way that Oldman’s mouth moves through the make-up, it just looks like a really good mask rather than actually convincing me that this is really his face. I don’t think this is anyone’s particular fault, though. It’s not Oldman’s performance, as it’s easy to forget the look of his face when he’s gripping you with powerfully intense scenes, and it’s not the make-up department’s fault because it does look like real skin. Maybe it’s a combination of the two, that Oldman’s facial structure just didn’t agree with the make-up, or something. I wouldn’t know how to put my finger on it, but every so often, I am pulled out of certain moments.
Also, the movie does sort of drag in places and my interest faded. Not throughout, mind you, as there are some brilliant and powerful scenes, but every so often, something boring comes up. Perhaps that’s just the nature of a political drama. When you have so many relatable human moments, the politics, no matter how easy to follow, will never be as interesting as the human moments. But then again, let’s face it, that’s about as subjective a statement as it gets.
Overall, I like the movie. I don’t love it like the critics do, but it’s worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of Oldman. I can’t attest to how accurate the events are compared to the other film, CHURCHILL, but I think this is about on par with that. I think maybe CHURCHILL is a little more entertaining, but I think this movie is better made with dramatically more powerful scenes. I recommend this as a matinee viewing, or a very strong rental. I can’t say I’d ever see this movie again, but it was well-worth the one and I’d be open to seeing certain scenes again.
My honest rating for DARKEST HOUR: 4/5