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Friday, June 5, 2020

Review: ‘Darkest Hour’

Thursday, January 4, 2018 by Paul Willistein in Focus

“Darkest Hour” takes us deep inside Buckingham Palace, British Parliament and the Underground for the intrigue of Great Britain as a nation hovering on the brink of World War II.

The excellent, engaging and inspiring “Darkest Hour” can be viewed as a companion piece to another great film of 2017, writer-director-producer Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.” The dilemma of some 300,000 British soldiers stranded on the beach of France’s coast across the English Channel figures prominently in “Darkest Hour.”

Marshalling an armada of a civilian regatta to rescue the English soldiers, who were pinned on the beach at Dunkirk under heavy bombardment from the German Luftwaffe, became a rallying point for English citizens and its leaders. “Darkest Hour” takes place in May 1940, prior to the fall of France.

In “Darkest Hour,” we view the Dunkirk operation through the lens of the subsequent entrance of Great Britain into war with Nazi Germany. England is led by newly-appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill (an almost unrecognizable Gary Oldman, a Screen Actors Guild actor nominee and a deserved Oscar actor nominee for the role).

This is Oldman’s finest performance in decades of fine performances (Oscar actor nominee, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” 2011; “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” 1992; “JFK,” 1991; “Sid and Nancy,” 1986). Oldman pushes out his lower lip, juggles a six-inch cigar in hand and mouth, and clutches a glass of whatever libation is at hand. He works his mouth in a nervous open-and-shut twitch, peers out from phlegmatic eyes framed by owlish glasses, and propels himself forward with a walk that seems propelled on roller casters rather than feet. It’s a remarkable transformation, led by Kazuhiro Tsuji, prosthetic makeup and hair designer (deserving an Oscar nomination). Churchill’s gruff countenance resembles a British bulldog.

Oldman is surrounded by several excellent performances, including that of Kristin Scott Thomas, bringing a vibrancy to her role as Churchill’s wife, Clementine, aka “Clemmie,” a sometimes disapproving but always encouraging partner in life. Another measure of the man, and Churchill’s apparently quirky personality, is provided by his typist, Elizabeth (Lilly James), with the dynamic between Churchill and her providing humorous moments.

In Churchill’s orbit are ousted Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), counseling appeasement with Hitler; Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), urging a peace pact (with Mussolini as mediator), and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), a reticent backer of Churchill.

Director Joe Wright (“Anna Karenina,” 2012; “Atonement,” 2007; “Pride & Prejudice,” 2005) has an excellent sense of pacing, with dramatic camera angles by Director of Photography Bruno Delbonnel (four-time Oscar cinematography nominee, including “Inside Llewyn Davis,” 2013; “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” 2009), imaginative editing by editor Valerio Bonelli (“Redemption,” 2013), dramatic, spare score by frequent collaborator, composer Dario Marianelli (Oscar recipient, score, “Atonement”; Oscar nominee, score, “Anna Karenina,” “Pride & Prejudice”), and fascinating World War II era production design by Sarah Greenwood (four Oscar nominations, including (“Anna Karenina,” “Atonement,” “Pride & Prejudice”), beautiful dresses for Mrs. Churchill and authentic military and civilian clothing by costume designer Jacqueline Durran (Oscar recipient, “Anna Karenina”; three Oscar nominations, including “Atonement,” “Pride & Prejudice”), working from a noteworthy screenplay by Anthony McCarten (two-time Oscar nominee, screenplay, picture, “The Theory of Everything.” 2014), which mixes bluster, umbrage and impish Britishisms.

“Darkest Hour” is thrilling. The film places a crucial time in Western Civilization under the microscope of history. Had not Winston Churchill, Parliament, the King of England and British citizens stood firm, Europe and the world could have turned out to be a much different place.

“Darkest Hour,” MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for some thematic material; Genre: Biography, Drama, History, War; Run time: 2 hrs., five mins.; Distributed by Focus Features.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Darkest Hour” locations included Wentworth Woodhouse, Wentworth, South Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, and Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square, Manchester, Greater Manchester, England, United Kingdom.

Box Office: Dec. 29 weekend box office results were unavailable because of the early Focus deadline for the New Year’s Day holiday.

As of Christmas Day, Dec. 25, the domestic box office total for 2017 was $10.6 billion, or 2.7 percent less than 2016’s record-setting $11.3 billion.

Box Office, Dec. 22: “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” ruled the box office universe for the second-straight week at No. 1 with $71.6 million, $368.2 million, two, weeks, keeping “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” opening at No. 2 with $36.4 million, weekend, $53 million since opening Dec. 20; “Pitch Perfect 3” opening at No. 3, with $19.9 million, one week; and “The Greatest Showman,” opening at No. 4, with $8.8 million, weekend, and $13.4 million, since opening Dec. 20. 5. “Ferdinand” stomped down three places, $7.3 million, $26.8 million, two weeks. 6.“Coco” puffed down three places, $5.4 million, $161.5 million, five weeks. 7. “Downsizing,” $5 million, opening. 8. “Darkest Hour” lit up eight places, $3.9 million; $6.7 million, five weeks. 9. “Father Figures,” $3.3 million, opening. 10. “The Shape of Water” rose four places, $3 million; $7.6 million, four weeks. Unreel, Jan. 5: “Insidious: The Last Key,” PG-13: Adam Robitel directs Kirk Acevedo, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, and Lin Shaye in the Horror film.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five