Darkest Hour (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joe Wright|
|Written by||Anthony McCarten|
|Music by||Dario Marianelli|
|Edited by||Valerio Bonelli|
|Box office||$150 million|
Darkest Hour is a 2017 war drama film directed by Joe Wright and written by Anthony McCarten. It stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, and is an account of his early days as Prime Minister, as Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht swept across Western Europe, threatening to defeat the United Kingdom during World War II. The German advance leads to friction at the highest levels of government between those who would make a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler, and Churchill, who refused. The film also stars Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, and Ronald Pickup.
The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on 1 September 2017, and also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. It began a limited release in the United States on 22 November 2017, followed by general release on 22 December, and was released on 12 January 2018 in the United Kingdom. The film grossed $150 million worldwide and received positive reviews from critics.
Many critics noted Oldman's performance as one of the best of his career; he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role for his work. At the 90th Academy Awards the film earned six nominations, including Best Picture, and won for Best Actor and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. At the 71st British Academy Film Awards it received nine nominations including Best Film and Outstanding British Film.
In May 1940, the opposition Labour Party in Parliament demands the resignation of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) for being too weak in the face of the Nazi onslaught. Chamberlain tells Conservative Party advisers that he wants Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) as his successor, but Halifax does not feel the time is right. Chamberlain is forced to choose the only man whom the opposition parties will accept: Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), the First Lord of the Admiralty.
Churchill tries to dismiss his new secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) for mis-hearing him, which earns him a rebuke from his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas). King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), who strongly distrusts Churchill, reluctantly invites him to form a government. Churchill includes Chamberlain and Halifax.
Although he was right about the danger from Adolf Hitler, Churchill has a poor reputation because of his record in the Admiralty, the Gallipoli Campaign in the First World War, his views on India and his support for Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis. Parliament reacts coolly to Churchill's first speech promising "Blood, toil, tears and sweat", for which he is chastised by the King. Churchill refuses to negotiate for peace, believing that the Germans are untrustworthy, but the French Prime Minister thinks him delusional for not admitting that the Allies are losing the Battle of France. Halifax and Chamberlain are keen to use Italian Ambassador Giuseppe Bastianini as intermediary to negotiate with Germany. They plan to resign from the government if Churchill refuses and use a vote of no confidence to replace him with Halifax.
The British Expeditionary Force is trapped at Dunkirk and Calais. Against the advice of the War Cabinet, Churchill orders Brigadier Claude Nicholson in Calais to lead the 30th Infantry Brigade in a rear guard action to distract the enemy and buy time for the soldiers at Dunkirk to evacuate.
The debacle in France causes the War Cabinet to support negotiating with Germany. George VI unexpectedly visits Churchill; the King encourages the Prime Minister to continue the war. Still uncertain of what to do, Churchill impulsively rides the London Underground (for the first time in his life) and asks the startled passengers their opinion; the civilians unanimously want to continue to fight. Churchill meets with the Outer Cabinet and other Members of Parliament, who also support him. The evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, Operation Dynamo, is successful.
As Churchill prepares to address Parliament, Halifax asks Chamberlain to continue with their plan to resign, but Chamberlain decides to listen to the address first. Towards the end of his speech, Churchill proclaims that "we shall fight on the beaches" should the Germans invade. Chamberlain decides to support Churchill, and Parliament applauds the Prime Minister's defiance. The film ends by stating that Operation Dynamo rescued over 300,000 allied soldiers; and that after the war in Europe ended in 1945, Churchill was voted out of power.
- Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill
- Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill
- Lily James as Elizabeth Layton
- Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI
- Stephen Dillane as Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax
- Ronald Pickup as Neville Chamberlain
- Nicholas Jones as John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon
- Samuel West as Anthony Eden
- David Schofield as Clement Attlee
- Richard Lumsden as Major-General Hastings Ismay
- Malcolm Storry as General Sir Edmund Ironside
- Hilton McRae as Arthur Greenwood
- Benjamin Whitrow as Sir Samuel Hoare. This film was Benjamin Whitrow's final film before his death on 28 September 2017.
- Joe Armstrong as John Evans
- Adrian Rawlins as Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding
- David Bamber as Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay
- David Strathairn as Franklin D. Roosevelt (voice only)
- Jeremy Child as James Stanhope, 7th Earl Stanhope
- Brian Pettifer as Sir Kingsley Wood
- Michael Gould as Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry
- John Atterbury as Sir Alexander Cadogan
On 5 February 2015, it was announced that Working Title Films had acquired Darkest Hour, a speculative screenplay by The Theory of Everything screenwriter Anthony McCarten, about Winston Churchill in the early days of World War II.
On 29 March 2016, it was reported that Joe Wright was in talks to direct the film. In April 2016, Gary Oldman was reported to be in talks to play Churchill. On 6 September 2016, it was announced that Focus Features would release the film in the United States on 24 November 2017, while Ben Mendelsohn was set to play King George VI and Kristin Scott Thomas was cast as Clementine Churchill. On 8 November 2016, Stephen Dillane joined the cast.
By November 2016, Darkest Hour had begun principal photography, and it was reported that Dario Marianelli would score the film. For his role as Churchill, Oldman spent over 200 hours having make-up applied, and smoked over 400 cigars (worth about $20,000) during filming. Filming took place in Manchester, England at both the Town Hall and John Rylands Library, both doubling for the Houses of Parliament and feature heavily in the film.
John Hurt was initially cast as British prime minister Neville Chamberlain. However, according to Oldman, Hurt was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer and was unable to attend the read-throughs. Ronald Pickup assumed the role of Chamberlain instead. Hurt died from cancer in January 2017.
Darkest Hour grossed $56.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $93.8 million in other countries (including $33.4 million in the UK), for a worldwide total of $150.2 million.
In the United States and Canada, the film began a limited release on 22 November 2017. In its first five days, it grossed $246,761 from four theatres (an average of $61,690), finishing 21st at the box office over the weekend. The film had its wide release on 22 December 2017, alongside the openings of Downsizing, Pitch Perfect 3 and Father Figures, and the wide release of The Shape of Water, and grossed $3.9 million from 804 theatres over that weekend, and $5.5 million over the four-day Christmas frame. 85% of its audience was over the age of 25, with 30% being 50 or older. The following weekend the film made $5.5 million, and a total of $7 million over the four-day New Years frame. The weekend of 27 January 2018, following the announcement of the film's six Oscar nominations, it made $2.1 million.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 85% based on 257 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critical consensus notes that Darkest Hour "is held together by Gary Oldman's electrifying performance, which brings Winston Churchill to life". On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average rating to reviews, the film has a normalised score of 75 out of 100, based on 50 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". PostTrak reported that over 90% of audience members gave the film a rating of either "excellent" or "very good".
Oldman received praise for his performance, with numerous critics labelling him a frontrunner to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, an award he would later go on to win. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote: "Get busy engraving Oldman's name on an Oscar... those fearing that Darkest Hour is nothing but a dull tableau of blowhard stuffed shirts will be relieved to know that they're in for a lively, provocative historical drama that runs on its own nonstop creative fire." David Ehrlich of IndieWire praised Wright's direction and the musical score, writing: "Unfolding with the clockwork precision of a Broadway play... it's a deliciously unsubtle testament to the power of words and their infinite capacity to inspire."
Conversely, Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com called the film "an acting exercise weighed down by costumes, make-up, and over-lighting", adding that "there's nothing new to the approach. It feels often like an obligation—a story that someone felt should be told again and a way to get a great actor his Oscar".
Historical criticism and inaccuracies
Writing in Slate, historian and academic John Broich calls Darkest Hour "a piece of historical fiction that undertakes a serious historical task," presenting the British decision to fight Hitler as a choice, not as inevitable. The situation in 1940 was as dire as depicted, but liberties were taken with the facts. The on-screen shouting matches over possible peace negotiations were fictional. The ride on the London Underground was fictional, and there is historical evidence that most British people were not immediately inspired by Churchill's speeches. George Orwell believed that ordinary people already felt subjugated and might not object to a "new order."
There is no conclusive evidence that Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax were planning an imminent vote of no confidence, though that threat existed until early victories, and it is also historical fact that Churchill was an object of suspicion by his fellow Tories. The Labour Party also confirmed that they would serve in a national government under another leader than Chamberlain, but did not name Churchill.
In The New Yorker in January 2018, Adam Gopnik wrote: "…in late May of 1940, when the Conservative grandee Lord Halifax challenged Churchill, insisting that it was still possible to negotiate a deal with Hitler, through the good offices of Mussolini, it was the steadfast anti-Nazism of Attlee and his Labour colleagues that saved the day – a vital truth badly underdramatized in the current Churchill-centric film, Darkest Hour". This criticism was echoed by Adrian Smith, emeritus professor of modern history at the University of Southampton, who wrote in the New Statesman that the film was "yet again overlooking Labour's key role at the most dangerous moment in this country's history ... in May 1940 its leaders gave Churchill the unequivocal support he needed when refusing to surrender. Ignoring Attlee's vital role is just one more failing in a deeply flawed film".
Referring to Charles Moore's comment that the film was "superb Brexit propaganda", Afua Hirsch wrote in The Guardian: "I would call the film propaganda, more generally – and a great example of the kind of myth we like to promote in modern Britain. Churchill has been re-branded as a tube-travelling, minority-adoring genius, in line with a general understanding of him as 'the greatest Briton of all time'." Hirsch also criticized the film for "perpetuating the idea that Winston Churchill stood alone, at the Darkest Hour, as Nazi fascism encroached, with Britain a small and vulnerable nation isolated in the north Atlantic. In reality the United Kingdom was at that moment an imperial power with the collective might of Indian, African, Canadian and Australian manpower, resources and wealth at its disposal."
The film gives the impression that both Clemmie and the King were able to listen to the 'beaches' speech live from Parliament. This was impossible as radio broadcasts from Parliament did not start until the 1970s. Whilst Churchill did record the speech for posterity he did not make the recording until 1949. Nor did he, unlike some other speeches, repeat the speech on the radio shortly after he made it in Parliament.
Awards and honours
Gary Oldman has said that there is talk of a sequel to Darkest Hour that could also include President Franklin D. Roosevelt (who had been voiced by David Strathairn in Darkest Hour) and take place during the Yalta Conference in 1945.
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