Darkest Hour

Directed by British filmmaker Joe Wright who is best known for the critically acclaimed 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and 2007’s Atonement, Darkest Hour is a superb glimpse into how the larger-than-life British Prime Minister Winston Churchill dealt with the difficult early years of World War II as hope seemed to diminish. The film’s greatest strength is the tour de force acting performance of Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman who will assuredly get an Oscar nod for his role as Churchill. It takes place near the beginning of World War II in May 1940 after the resignation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who sought appeasement with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany and explores the early leadership of Churchill. In the midst of the Dunkirk crisis as almost the entire British Army is surrounded by the Nazis in France, the strong-willed Churchill must decide whether to initiate peace talks with Germany or to carry on with an all-out fight with Hitler’s powerful military. Feeling very much like a dramatic play, the film is mostly comprised of heated dialogue between Churchill and government members supporting negotiation with Hitler, particularly Chamberlain and Britain’s foreign minister Lord Halifax, and the primary setting is in the London underground headquarters of the British military and intelligence. The narrative also delves into Churchill’s personal relationships with his supportive wife Clementine, played by Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas, dedicated secretary Elizabeth, played by Lily James, and skeptical King George VI, played by Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn. The filmmaker is able to present a mesmerizing intimate portrayal of one of the most powerful leaders in modern history that stands out in a year in which Churchill has been depicted by three equally talented actors. In stark contrast to Churchill’s public persona as a heavy-drinking and cigar-smoking force to be reckoned with, Oldman’s performance shows the sensitive side of Churchill as a thoughtful and conflicted leader who feels compelled to do what is only best for his suffering nation. Overall, I found it to be a very absorbing and thought-provoking movie that showcases one of the best acting performances in recent memory.

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