Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour is a mixed victory


DARKEST HOUR (Joe Wright). 125 minutes. Opens Friday (December 8). See listing. Rating: NNN

I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of patience for the films of Joe Wright. Yes, Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina are gorgeous, and Keira Knightley is great in all of them, but it’s hard to sink into his movies because he never stops reminding you how hard they were to make, and how important they are. The thing is, what’s important to him is never really the point of the film he’s making.

So let’s look at Darkest Hour, which is set in the early weeks of Winston Churchill’s first term as Prime Minister of England, when he battled the machinations of Neville Chamberlain’s loyalists and organized the evacuation of British soldiers from the beaches of France. 

That’s a story worth telling, and in fact it’s been told an awful lot in recent years. Wright’s movie forms an unofficial trilogy with Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, both released this year, and also works as a sequel to The King’s Speech while making a counter-argument to Brian Cox’s performance as the aging politician in Jonathan Teplitzky’s recent Churchill. Which is to say, Darkest Hour feels somewhat extraneous at this point in time, and I suspect it only exists because Wright wanted to put his own stamp on the story.

This is precisely what he does, slathering the whole thing in his customary self-embiggening artistry, constantly reminding us just how much thought he put into every camera angle and lighting combination. Sunlight streams through the windows of Buckingham Palace and onto the tapestries just so – did you notice? No worries, he’ll hold the shot until you do.

Still, annoying as Wright’s flourishes may be, Gary Oldman keeps us engaged with an interpretation of Churchill that underplays the man’s bulldog resolve and instead leans into his self-deprecating humour, using it as a crutch or a distraction as necessary. It’s terrific work in what might simply have been a bit of stunt casting, and that Oldman does it while buried underneath pounds of latex makes it even more of an accomplishment. 

Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Mendelsohn are worthy scene partners as Clementine Churchill and King George VI, respectively, while Lily James struggles to flesh out the role of Churchill’s latest secretary – though that’s more the fault of Wright and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory Of Everything) seeing her as more of a sounding board than a human being.



Stay In The Know with Now Toronto

Be the first to know about new and exclusive content