Film Review: Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour had come and gone from Seattle theaters by the time I returned from Panama, but on Sunday evening I bought it on Xfinity and watched. Some films, like Dunkirk, wouldn’t work at all on a small screen, but Darkest Hour did, at least for me.

Gary Olds has been getting rave reviews for his portrayal of Churchill, and those reviews are justified. Olds is up against Daniel Day Lewis, Timothee Chalamet, Denzel Washington, and Daniel Kaluuya for Best Actor in the list of Oscar nominees, and I think Olds will win. Denzel Washington deserved the Oscar last year for Fences and didn’t get it, but Roman J. Israel is not as good a film and not as good a role. Timothee Chalamet was brilliant in Call Me By Your Name, but he’s young. I think Olds’ portrayal of the crusty Prime Minister wins out there. I didn’t see the Kaluuya film, and probably won’t — can’t make a comparison. Daniel Day Lewis is wonderful as always, but Darkest Hour is a better film and Olds has the stronger role.

My, but Churchill was quite the alcoholic. How do people function who start drinking tumblers of Scotch with breakfast, and down bottles of champagne with lunch? And smoke cigars nonstop? It’s a wonder the man could climb stairs, much less deliver a ringing speech in parliament and do so with what sounded like a clear head.

Darkest Hour clearly brings out the historical truth: Churchill saw, more clearly than others, that Hitler was a monster with whom no negotiation was possible. Churchill somehow rallied the British royalty — the current Queen Elizabeth’s father Bertie — a parliament half of whose members were still on the side of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement strategy, and most importantly of all, the British people. That Japan attacked the U.S. and brought our country into the war clearly helped — could Britain have brought about an Allied victory on its own? Perhaps not.

Churchill was the man for the darkest hour indeed. Wondering who will be that man, or that woman, as Trump continues to devolve? it seems as if history tells us that dark times require a rallying point, a single clear voice, a single rousing message. Churchill was that for Britain. We’ve yet to find ours.

I don’t think Darkest Hour takes Best Picture, which I suspect is a race between Three Billboards and The Shape of Water. Best Picture wins occur in context, and this year’s context is unlikely to be an historical WW II drama that glorifies crusty old white men.

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