starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn
screenplay by Anthony McCarten
directed by Joe Wright
by Walter Chaw Joe Wright's propulsive, compelling, awards-season prestige biopic Darkest Hour finds Gary Oldman in fine fettle, delivering a rousing performance as WWII-era Winston Churchill, from the moment of his usurpation of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) for the Prime Minister-ship through to the beginning of the evacuation of Dunkirk. It's a film about the suddenly-controversial position of not appeasing Nazis and the importance of rhetoric as a skill in our leadership. (Churchill uses Cicero as reference material.) It's about principles and erudition. A shame that both seem suddenly in such short supply. When Churchill addresses Parliament in his famous "We will never surrender" speech, chief political rival Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) mutters that Winston's just mobilized the English language. Trapped as we are now as a nation under an illiterate, sub-human moron and Nazi sympathizer who is some combination of demented and narcissistic, I confess I got emotional a time or two imagining there were once leaders in the world of whom we could be proud and behind whom we could rally. A shame that it seems so much like quaint science-fiction as we work through our forever-war scenarios and jockey for battle against Southeast Asia again. Darkest Hour, in other words, feels aspirational rather than historical, finding its greatest tensions in the disagreement within Churchill's war council over whether or not the British Empire should "hear out" the Nazis in order to avoid conflict, or whether they should make a stand and, should they be defeated, at least be defeated knowing the empire stood for something. Churchill says that great civilizations that fought and were conquered tend to rise again--but civilizations that capitulate tend to be swallowed by history. Call Darkest Hour a warning about the poison diminishing the United States, though I doubt we're listening.