Cinematic Releases: Darkest Hour (2017) - Reviewed

On the day Winston Churchill became Prime Minster, the Nazi war machine was already invading France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Within days, three of these four countries would surrender to Hitler with France following suit a few weeks later. British forces were dangerously close to defeat, as they were encircled by a superior Nazi army and falling back on Dunkerque. Sunken warships cluttered the French harbor, making evacuation next to impossible and the United States was still a year and a half away from joining the war effort. On May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill was staring the collapse of all of Western Europe and an invasion by Hitler square in the face. 

Darkest Hour is the story of these first precarious days for Winston Churchill as Prime Mister, covering May 9, 1940 through June 4, 1940 when Churchill gave his infamous ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’ speech to Parliament. Hearing this speech never ceases to move me to tears and Gary Oldman’s phenomenal performance is nothing short of channeling the ghost of Churchill, making the audience feel as if they really are watching the Prime Minister himself. The exquisite makeup, set and costume design of this film only further enhances this experience. 

In order for the audience to really grasp the complexity of the inner workings of Churchill’s war cabinet, it will need to be viewed in the context of the horrors of WWI. The First World War was the first war to use mechanized warfare. Machine guns, tanks, and chemical weapons turned the battlefields of WWI into a slaughter. The History Channel’s documentary World Wars puts the death rate of WWI at 230 men per hour or 1 man every 15 seconds. Most of Europe was devastated by this new type of warfare, causing the reluctance of many British leaders to engage in another war even as Hitler’s troops were marching across the continent. Churchill was one of the few in his party to grasp the real threat Hitler posed. As early as 1930, Churchill was raising alarms about the Nazis but lacked the support of his party. This is mostly due to his tarnished reputation as a result of the failed Gallipoli campaign of WWI where, as Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill ordered the British Navy to resupply the Russians by blasting through the Gallipoli peninsula causing the deaths of tens of thousands. 

Darkest Hour is about the political game Churchill needed to play in order to regain credibility and the support of his party in order to continue the fight against Hitler. Told through the eyes of his personal secretary Elizabeth Layton, played by Lily James, it mostly focuses on how he used his wit and skills as an orator to battle his political rivals Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlin. Growing up as the daughter of a veteran I’ve seen hundreds of WWII documentaries. In these documentaries Churchill’s accomplishments are always celebrated and few if any highlight how close Britain really was to falling into the hands of Hitler. I do not think the public really grasps how the political decisions of some brought the world dangerously close to a very different outcome in the fight against fascism. 

Lost in the frenzy of The Last Jedi I think many movie goers overlooked Darkest Hour. It is a film that deserves our full attention. The world owes a lot to the British people and to Winston Churchill. Without them Nazis could very well still control a large portion of the globe. And in 2018, with the soul of our own country hanging in the balance, it serves as a good reminder as to just which side of the fight against fascism we should be on.

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-Dawn Marie