Darkest Hour

Dec 23, 2017

An exemplary docudrama about the pre-eminence of words in war.

Darkest Hour

Grade: A

Director: Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna)

Screenplay: Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything)

Cast: Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Lily James (Baby Driver)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 2 hr 5 min

by John DeSando

“He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane)

What a joy to see this superior docudrama, Darkest Hour, exalt language by championing Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). Although I have spent my career cavorting with words, this film does in two hours what I had always believed: Words can win wars.

Although at this point I can see no other competition for the Oscar than Gary Oldman, you may not believe me because you can’t recognize him in his role. He does lose himself playing Churchill, not just because of the fat prosthetics, the glasses, and the cigar, but because he channels Churchill’s indomitable spirit and endearing flaws with a perfection rarely seen this side of Daniel Day-Lewis.

For the complete historical experience, see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk as a companion, for Churchill’s success of the 300,000 soldier-rescue/retreat at Dunkirk made Churchill’s legacy and changed the war to a losing proposition for the Nazis, notwithstanding their withering superiority on the land and in the air.   

What makes this doc so memorable is the revelation of Churchill’s flaws as well as his genius. He wavers in acceptance of Chamberlain and Halifax’s proposals to capitulate to Herr Hitler, yet he can be persuaded by the populace’s “never” to give in to them as he rides the tube to listen to their heroism first hand.

Besides the tour de force performance, Darkest Hour has other splendid moments such as the nose-to-nose confrontations between Mrs. Churchill (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the prime minister. Additionally, director Joe Wright employs his well-known camera acrobatics to keep interest and relay meaning ,e.g., the opening camera shot from the ceiling of the House to a close-up of the speaker’s left side is ominous about the lofty proceedings and their roots in humanity, and his street-tracking shots are several and realistic.

Here’s a docudrama to make you weep as you watch real-life heroes struggle in a battle of the mind, and oh, yes, words.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at