Movie Review: “Darkest Hour”
The year is 1940 and Adolf Hitler is leading his Nazi forces across Europe. They are now advancing on the United Kingdom, causing tensions to rise within the country. The risk of defeat is on the horizon, and has caused a divide among government officials within the United Kingdom. Many want to negotiate with Adolf Hitler, in an attempt to reach a peace treaty. However, there is one individual who refuses to do anything of the sort,
Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) refuses to negotiate with a man like Adolf Hitler. He believes that the United Kingdom needs to stand against Nazi Germany, regardless of the outcome. This belief, however, is highly criticized within the United Kingdom’s government. Win or lose, war will cost the lives of many men, and would have an incredible impact on the United Kingdom’s economy. Winston Churchill faces heat from many within his own government and must convince the war council that they need to fight. If he cannot, he will surely be removed from power. Despite the risk to his career, reputation, and the unavoidable casualties of war, Winston Churchill knows that they must stand against Nazi Germany no matter the cost—a belief that has earned him the admiration of his secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).
The Pros & Cons
Gary Oldman (+8pts)
The Subway (-3pts)
Lily James (+3pts)
The Secretary (-3pts)
Winston Churchill & World War II (+8pts)
Pro: Gary Oldman (+8pts)
If you are familiar with Gary Oldman, then you know that he is one of those actors who transforms into the roles he plays. This movie was no different. Now, I am not sure how accurate his performance was to the real Winston Churchill, but he sounded similar enough, and became something very different than Gary Oldman. He became this role, and he did so while making what could have been a boring movie interesting through his performance.
While special effects certainly contributed to his transformation, a lot of credit still goes to the actor. The guy is no stranger to impressive dramatic performances. In this movie, he was able to pull me into his character's dilemma, he was able to captivate me, and he was able to elevate the entire movie. Darkest Hour was plenty more than just the lead actor, but I thought this movie was worth seeing just for Gary Oldman’s performance.
Con: The Subway (-3pts)
I am all for fictionalizing true stories when necessary. The reason to do this is simply that stories that are worth telling from real-life rarely fit into an approximately two hour movie. Thus, true stories that spanned days, weeks, months, or years, sometimes need to twist the truth a bit. There are certain ways to do this—such as merging multiple people into one character, making things that happen simultaneously when they happened at completely different times in real-life—but sometimes, filmmakers need to make up scenes or events all together. The chosen method of fictionalizing real-life events does not really matter, so long as the story feels true, and stays generally true to the real events. There was one fictionalized scene in this movie that did not work for me. There was a scene where Winston Churchill wanted to get an idea of how the general public was feeling, so he jumped on the subway.
I do not want to give this scene away if you have not seen it, but this was the scene that did not work for me. If this movie was entirely fiction, then I honesty think this scene would have been fine, and actually impactful. However, this movie was supposed to be based on a true story, and knowing that the scene felt very obviously fictionalized sort of took all the impact out of the scene. It was obvious that this event never happened, and that made me somewhat disconnected with what was happening. It is okay to tweak the truth a bit to condense the story, but fictionalized scenes need to at least feel true, even if they are not 100% accurate. This scene just did not feel true at all.
Pro: Lily James (+3pts)
I unfortunately thought her character was useless to this story, but I thought Lily James did a decent enough job in the role. I will get into why I thought the character was useless in the next section of this review, but Lily James made me care about the character at least a little bit. She did great with the little drama that her character was given, and she was also relatable in the role. Her character could have been taken out of the story all together, but Lily James made the character tolerable. Her on-screen charisma and chemistry with other characters made her character feel relevant—even though she was not—and that is a testament to what Lily James was able to add to this role.
Con: The Secretary (-3pts)
This story was kind of told through the lens of Winston Churchill’s secretary, Elizabeth Layton. It was a story about the challenges that Winston Churchill faced when staying firm about not negotiating with Adolf Hitler. The movie started and setup the idea that this movie was about Winston Churchill during this historic period, but that it was from the perspective of his secretary at the time. This caused a few problems for the movie, the main issue being that Elizabeth Moss was not relevant to this story.
Sure, Elizabeth Moss was around Winston Churchill a lot during this time. However, she did not contribute anything to this story. On top of that, there were plenty of scenes throughout this movie that focused on Winston Churchill and Elizabeth Moss was nowhere around, so if this movie was supposed be from her perspective, these scenes did not make any sense. Her character was there, and she got plenty of screen time. However, the movie would have benefited from taking her out of it—as she contributed nothing to the story, so taking her out of the movie would have made the story more concise. I am all for telling stories about influential women in history, but if Elizabeth Moss contributed anything noteworthy to the real-life events that this movie was based on, then the filmmakers failed to show it.
Pro: Winston Churchill & World War II (+8pts)
There really is not much to say here, other than the fact that the story of Winston Churchill during this time was a compelling one. While Nazi Germany was sweeping across Europe, many across the continent feared the impact of another World War. Thus, many in the United Kingdom wanted to negotiate with Adolf Hitler to avoid war at all costs. Winston Churchill, however, knew that what Adolf Hitler was doing was wrong, and knew that the United Kingdom needed to stand against him. For him, it was not a matter of the definite loss of life that war would bring, or the economical impact that it would have on his country. Instead, it was a matter of what side of history the United Kingdom will have been on, and could he live with himself if he allowed Adolf Hitler to continue what he was doing out of fear.
For him, it was obvious that the United Kingdom could not stand by and allow Nazi Germany to continue doing what they were doing, but his stance on the subject resulted in him receiving a ton of political criticism and put his career in jeopardy. It is easy to sit here after all this time and criticize anyone who was willing to negotiate with Adolf Hitler—without any of the potential consequences. However, those that opposes Winston Churchill had their reasons, and I understood them. This dilemma made this a compelling story and it was one that I enjoyed watching.
Con: Fictionalization (-2pts)
Again, I am fine with fictionalization in order to condense a real-life story into an approximately two hour movie. Unfortunately with this movie, too much of it ended up being fiction. Most of it worked in the sense that it felt true while I was watching it, so it did not impact my enjoyment of the movie while it was on. However, after the movie ended and after some basic research, I came to discover that a lot of this movie was fictionalized. It was a weird decision by the filmmakers to make a movie based on real-life events, only to steer away from the truth in so many ways. This was not a huge issue for me, because I was blissfully ignorant of it while watching the movie, but if you are going to make a movie based on real events, then you should at least try to get as much of it as accurate as possible.
Grade: B+ (86pts)
This was a movie about Winston Churchill during the historic time when the United Kingdom was faced with war against Nazi Germany. He knew the United Kingdom had to stand against Nazi Germany no matter the cost, but many government officials strongly disagreed. It was a compelling story about the challenges that Winston Churchill faced, but it was not without its issues. His secretary was an irrelevant character that got far too much screen time, there was the obviously fictionalized subway scene that took me out of the movie, and there was the reality that a lot of this movie was only loosely based on the real-life events.
Fortunately, the movie had a lot going for it as well. There was the obviously compelling story and the outstanding performance by Gary Oldman, which definitely made this movie worth seeing. Then there was Lily James, who made her character feel relevant even though she was not. The movie was certainly more fictionalized than I would have liked, but it was still a really interesting story that I enjoyed watching.