Cinephile No. 699 “Darkest Hour”
“Keep Calm and Carry On”
A Review of "Darkest Hour” by Nathan H. Box
Director: Joe Wright, Writer: Anthony McCarten, Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas
Rating: 4 Stars, SHOWTIME
During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.
By now, we have all become intensely aware of the British phrase used to boost morale during World War II, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” It has suffered thousands of iterations and has become sort of a cliché. To watch “Darkest Hour,” is to see the actual manifestation and meaning behind that phrase. When the film ends, an original definition and purpose are breathed into the saying that encouraged British people to maintain a stiff upper lip. When the credits roll, all the silliness is retired, and value is rediscovered.
We only arrive at this point because Gary Oldman gives the performance of his life with his portrayal of the revered Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill, who arrived at his post through the chaos of democracy, wasn’t the man the ruling party of Parliament wanted to lead the kingdom through war. He was a compromise; someone who could pull together a coalition government. With Germany on the doorsteps of Dunkirk, this “second choice” would be called upon to lead his nation through adversity and some of the world’s darkest days.
Churchill was rough around the edges and deeply committed to public service. To save western democracy, he would have to weigh impossible peace against all-out war. Thanks to Oldman’s Oscar-worthy performance, we bear witness to the consternation and agony of his monumental decision. Politicians tell him to reason with Hitler. In his gut, he knows there is no reasoning with a tyrant. Instead, he takes his message to the people. They tell him to fight and fight with all the might of the British empire.
Like all movies based on historical events, the ending is written before we step into the theatre. The drama in this film is uncovered in what we don’t know; those conversations and silent prayers we were never present to hear. In these moments, we learn of an idol’s true character. It is also in these moments, where truly remarkable actors shine.
Now, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Be good to each other,
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