Winston Churchill is a divisive character, a quick look at the discussions taking place online around “The Darkest Hour” will reveal exactly how divisive. The darker parts of his life story though have to be put to one side when watching Joe Wright’s intimate portrait of the first few days of Churchill’s Premiership. This is not a biopic. It is an examination of a very short chapter in the man’s life and the ramifications of those days on the UK, Europe and the world.
Gary Oldman gives the greatest performance of a long career which is filled with great performances. He captures the fire and fury within Churchill as well as the dark depression that marked his life. He is magnificent. He is brilliantly supported by Kristin Scott Thomas who plays his supportive and long suffering wife Clemmie and by Lily James who plays his secretary.
The real story here isn’t the impending destruction of the British forces at Dunkirk or the potential fall of Europe to the Nazis, the real story is of political scheming and self-preservation being played out on the front benches and back rooms of Westminster. It is here that the deposed former PM, Chamberlain, and Viscount Halifax are plotting to bring down Churchill and offer a surrender to Hitler. That Churchill survives their Machiavellian machinations is evidence of his strength, stubbornness and will to succeed; qualities that his country would need to secure victory against the greatest evil seen to that point in history. This upper-class soap opera is played out against the backdrop of the darkest hour in British history.