My only motivation for seeing the film “Darkest Hour” was to see if I agree with its nomination for best picture — especially with my skepticism of the academy’s voting process. Read about that in my previous article.
I thought the film would be a long, drawn out history of Winston Churchill leading up to his appointment as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and then tell the story of England’s darkest hour.
Instead I got a film that was a chronicle of Churchill’s first month in office as Prime Minister, on whose shoulders it fell to lead the small country as the threat of Nazi invasion loomed, and while England’s army of 300,000 soldiers faced their darkest hour in Dunkirk.
When I sat down before the film started, all I knew of Winston Churchill was what I learned in school and a portion of his address to Parliament June 4, 1940, which the band Iron Maiden featured in their song “Ace’s High.”
Through Gary Oldman’s vivid portrayal of Churchill, I saw a man fighting against a parliament who had no faith in him, members of his own war cabinet seeking to remove him, and also struggling within himself in knowing whose leader he was supposed to be — a leader of the people, who would rage war against Hitler and defend England, or parliament’s puppet, negotiating for peace with a tyrannical regime.
Oldman superbly epitomizes Churchill as the leader history remembers, but the man within as well.
In a scene where Churchill is dictating a speech to his typist, Elizabeth Layton, he notices a picture of a young man in uniform and asks if the man is her beau. She confirms this and tells him her man had been traveling with his unit, but never made it to the destination they were traveling to. In that moment, the compassion the prime minister had was evident, as was his torment.
It is the people of England whom Churchill was so torn over: Does he send men to their deaths, or instead find a way to reach an accord with Hitler and his allies — to guarantee the people of the United Kingdom safety and peace? Should he take a stand, or give in?
There are three scenes in the film that illustrate the loyalty the prime minister had for the individuals under his leadership, and in my mind were integral to the overall message of the film.
The first two scenes are beautifully shot moments in time, with people going about their day, living life and everything is slowed down — almost a still frame, yet still in motion. Here I had the thought that the director Joe Wright wanted to emphasize these slices of time and the people in them.
The third scene was one of the most powerful in the movie and the one that changed my mind about the film.
In this scene, Churchill has taken it upon himself to ride The Underground and while doing so, asks the passengers he meets if they would give up their country to Hitler, to become enslaved. The moment when a little girl responds with a resounding, “Never!” captured my heart as it did Churchill’s and aided him in realizing that the people of the UK were resolute in defending their island, whatever the cost may be and would never surrender — he, the leader of their country, needed to take a stand for them all.
“Darkest Hour” has a powerful message of being united when standing against impossible odds, that it is the people of a country who matter. It succeeded in quelling my skepticism and touched my heart. It certainly deserves the nomination for best picture, and the film is a strong contender to win.