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DARKEST HOUR

SYNOPSIS:
During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds. (Based on a true story.)

Review by Louise Keller:
Set on a backdrop of war, Joe Wright's superb film about Churchill during critical weeks in 1940 is intelligent and informative, with a knockout central performance by Gary Oldman. Oldman slips into the role as he would a glove - with the help of thinning hair and prosthetics. He is almost unrecognisable. He satisfies the image in every way. The power of words resonates as we are offered a complex portrayal of Churchill from his controversial appointment as Prime Minister to his famous 'never surrender' speech. Wright takes Anthony McCarten's screenplay and squeezes enough tubes of colour to create a living canvas reflecting the politician, husband, man and the state of the world at war.

But the war with Hitler and Mussolini is not the only war being waged. When the film begins (May 9, 1940), there is a war going on in the House of Commons, involving the office of the prime minister. A war of words. The players: the outgoing Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane). Churchill is not present. Only the tell-tale bowler hat on an empty seat.

There are many character endorsing scenes. We first meet Churchill from his bed as he lights his trademark cigar; breakfast tray with whisky and champagne on his lap. Kristin Scott Thomas as his beloved Clementine is terrific; I love the scene when she tells him he is insufferable but quickly melts was he pours on the charm. (The relationship is handled far better than that in the earlier release of Churchill, in which Miranda Richardson played the role opposite Brian Cox.) The prickly relationship between Churchill and King George V (Ben Mendelsohn, wonderful) is nicely drawn from their first stiff encounter to the comfortable intimacy that evolves. Lily James effectively plays Churchill's intimidated new secretary. It may be a fabrication, but the scene set in a London tube when Churchill meets ordinary people is entertaining in the lead up to his famous, rousing speech.

The film is a mix of political intrigue, character study and glimpse into a fascinating time in history. Recommended.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If history is of any interest to you, this is one of three current films dealing with one of the most momentous events of WWII: Churchill's handling of the crisis that led to the historic evacuation of the entire British army from Dunkirk in May 1940. On that event rests Europe's ongoing freedom from Nazi rule. That is big deal. In this the last of the three films (Andrew Dominik's Chrurchill [2017] and Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk [2017] being the others), Joe Wright wrangles yet another Churchill. The menu offered by these films is variations on a theme, but like a complex recipe, each results in something very different. They all work for me to varying degrees, although Dunkirk the least.

Gary Oldman's Winston Churchill is feels like the most complete characterisation, delivering a man whose wounded self confidence (thanks to Gallipoli) conflicts with his gut feel about Hitler and the dangers of any peace agreement. This internal (and external) debate is the film's most interesting and informative aspect, thanks to Anthony McCarten's screenplay and Wright's emphasis. Wright, a visuals driven director (see his Anna Karenina, 2012), ensures that the images captured by his DoP Bruno Delbonnel create the perfect mood and his cast shape the perfect tone for his film. The personal conflicts help shape the public decisions, and this propels the narrative.

Superbly supported by Lily James as his secretary, Kristen Scott Thomas as his wife and Ben Mendelsohn as his King, Oldman defies his own physicality (thanks of course to hair, make up and prosthetics) to portray Churchill's fundamental character - and his rather troubled political life, and his crucial relationship to his wife. The failings of the man sink beneath his sheer word power - and it's no coincidence that we hear him searching in his library for his book on Cicero in one scene.

For me, Darkest Hour is a story that deserves telling repeatedly; in Europe's darkest hour, and Churchill's finest.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

DARKEST HOUR (PG)
(US, 2017)

CAST: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Samuel West, Hannah Steele, Ronald Pickup, Anna Burnett, Nicholas Jones, Jordan Waller, Richard Lumsden

PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, James Biddle, Anthony McCarten, Douglas Urbanski

DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

SCRIPT: Anthony McCarten

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bruno Delbonnel

EDITOR: Valerio Bonelli

MUSIC: Dario Marianelli

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sarah Greenwood

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 11, 2018







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