Darkest Hour – MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking
Tempo grade: A-
Scholars warn that the lens through which we view history is a vastly imperfect one. It is even more so when married to art.
In the case of "Darkest Hour," the new film starring Gary Oldman as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the imperfections are light, and mostly in the interpretation director Joe Wright took of momentous events shaped as theatrically stylized storytelling. However, within this context, Oldman offers a stunning performance as the World War II leader who helped galvanize the British people against the impending threat of Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler.
Wright himself stepped into the modern political fray by offering a comment about how his film has deeper resonance for current events. In the film's "trivia" section on imdb.com, he states, "There's a big question in America at the moment: what does good leadership look like? Churchill resisted when it mattered most, and as I travel around America, I am really impressed and optimistic at the level of resistance happening in the U.S. at the moment. After George W Bush was elected, it wasn't the same level; there was more apathy then. Now people are very vocal and that's really positive."
Wright's film is very much a companion piece to Christopher Nolan's recent "Dunkirk." It provides a different look at the same events in May 1940, before the United States entered the war, concerning the epic crisis that befell virtually the entire British army. It was trapped by overwhelming Nazi forces closing in on them in France, a few miles across the English Channel. The film illustrates how Churchill, newly named as prime minister after his predecessor Neville Chamberlain was given a vote of no confidence, must deal with confusion, anxiety and appeals to placate Hitler by using Mussolini as a go-between. This, as is stated in the film, would have resulted in England becoming a "slave state."
Churchill's famous "We will never surrender" speech rings heavily as the spark needed to ignite domestic support.
In the end, firm resolve and no small measure of luck allowed 338,000 men to be rescued from almost certain death. Of these, approximately 215,000 were British and 123,000 were French. They were able to escape in 102,250, mostly civilian, British ships.
This is a powerful film that speaks to current events in ways over which Wright almost misses the point. Brexit is the present effort to divorce England from the European Union. But back in the 1940s, it was the unity among nations that rose up in the face of supreme evil that eventually sealed victory for the world. That is certainly food for thought.
This film costars Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane and Samuel West. The screenwriter was Anthony McCarten.
Audience note: Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres has added early screenings to its Friday line-up in addition to its regular weekend schedule. Films such as the one reviewed above can now be seen as early as 1:50 p.m. on its Friday opening day.
"Darkest Hour" is rated PG-13 for some thematic material.
It is showing daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4145 or visit storyteller7.com.