DARKEST HOUR Cert PG Running time 125 minutes Stars 3

In 2007 director Joe Wright gave us Atonement, a wartime romance whose grand moment was an impressive peak at the enormity of the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Having established good form with the Second World War, he now provides us the other side of the event. This is a look at the low politicking in Parliament which led up to the momentous event.

It took up to four hours a day to prepare actor Gary Oldman for his role as Prime Minster Winston Churchill, but you have to wonder whether this stuffy Second World War drama was worth it. 

Some theatrical framing shows Churchill isolated and boxed in in middle of screen, but generally it’s a plodding affair, lacking the invention of Wright’s 2012 adaption of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

There’s a dramatically important but laughably absurd scene in a tube carriage. It’s a sop to the working class who are otherwise silent and in their place for the duration.

Doing any kind of acting underneath the weight of his impressive prosthetic costume and makeup is an achievement in itself. It’s the sort of immersive and painstaking physical transformation which always attracts awards attention.

So Oldman’s Golden Globe win for best actor was no surprise, and he’s the bookies favourite for the Oscar.

However with the British veteran anchoring the film with such weight, everyone else seems to be vague and insubstantial.

Neither Lily James or Kristin Scott Thomas have much to contribute as respectively his winsome secretary and supportive wife. 

According to the pedestrian script, Churchill’s darkest hour was spent persuading the War Cabinet to save the British army at Dunkirk, while being steadfast in refusing Viscount Halifax’s siren call of a peace treaty with Hitler.

It’s acknowledged his career up to this point was a litany of catastrophes, including masterminding the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of the First World War. Former public school boys being promoted for failure is not a new feature of public life.

There’s absolutely no quibbling to be had with the quality of the design, costumes or makeup, which have all been deservedly recognised with Bafta nominations. It has nine in total.

But it’s telling the film has been overlooked for Bafta noms in the editing and directing categories.

Nor was it nommed for writing, though given its reliance on Churchill’s own words, best adapted screenplay would have been the most appropriate category.

There’s nothing new to be learnt, and much like Churchill himself, this film chunters along, trying ‘not to bugger it up’.

As the occasional CGI bomb falls on British troops and a CGI fleet briefly musters in front of the white cliffs of Dover, it proves how correct Christopher Nolan was in his instincts to avoid the use of CGI in his Dunkirk masterpiece of last year. 

Both Darkest Hour and Dunkirk have best film Bafta noms, but the gulf in class is staggering.

 

 

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