The man who steered the UK to victory was the master of rhetoric who used words with devastating effect and Anoushka Ravi Shankar’s ex-spouse Joe Wright employs some of the finest speeches by Winston Churchill in this biopic to reveal the heart, soul and mind of the PM of a small island nation facing the might of Nazi Germany during World War II. Churchill detested the BBC but did not hesitate to use it to broadcast morale-boosting speeches.
Written for the screen by Anthony McCarten, and embellished by glorious music conducted by Dario Marianelli, Darkest Hour narrates how Hitler embarks in a conquest of Europe – the east has fallen, and the Nazis have marched into Holland, France and Belgium. King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn, beautiful) replaces Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) with Churchill (Gary Oldman, brilliant) as the new Prime Minister whose opponents notably Lord Halifax (Stephen Game of Thrones Dillane)
think Hitler will be reasonable and plot to oust Churchill. But Churchill decides to fight Hitler instead
of negotiating a settlement brokered by Mussolini’s Italy. “How does a man talk peace with a tiger who has his mouth clamped on his head?”
Under the prosthetics, Oldman captures Churchill like no actor: The steady gaze of baby blue eyes, the moist lower lip that protruded ever so slightly, the fondness for cigars and brandy early in the morning, bare feet padding around the house presided over by his devoted wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) She loves him dearly, despite his faults which she tells him to his face – arrogance is only one of them. He disregards Parliament’s advice to keep the planes to defend Britain and not send them to France. “France must be saved.”
But he is at his finest when he launches an operation involving civilians to rescue the 300,000 British soldiers stranded at Dunkirk; when US President Roosevelt is slow in supporting the war effort, Churchill makes an impassioned appeal to the colonised for help. “We will shed blood, sweat and tears, we shall go on to the end, we shall never surrender. And if God forbid our island should fall, our Empire beyond the sea will carry on the struggle.” Over two million Indian troops would volunteer and fight in Africa, Italy and the Far East in WW2.
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup
Director: Joe Wright
Rating: * * * *