“King George VI is underrated” — D
This seeming Dunkirk prequel is mesmerizing in its cinematography, set and costume design and concept — the power of the written and spoken word. As Viscount Halifax says of Winston Churchill, “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” Its fatal flaw, like watching an Olympic high diver do a belly flop in super slo-mo, is the story. Darkest Hour is in an uphill fight the entire way in that we all know the outcome. Britain neither negotiated nor capitulated with the Nazis— “NEVER” as a little girl says to Churchill in the London Underground. The film does have many worthwhile and powerful moments. However, it also has something in common with a film we saw last week, All the Money in the World in that the story gets going and then hovers in an endless holding pattern, like Frontier Airlines trying to land at JFK on Christmas Eve. And so we watch helplessly as the brave Elizabeth Layton, played sympathetically by Lily James, tries to spur on a man who doesn’t really need pushing. It becomes tedious watching her float around the periphery of this story. It reminds me of another film we saw recently, The Lost City of Z, where Nina Fawcett, wife of explorer Percy Fawcett, is introduced and a sincere attempt is made to include her but it’s strained in that it is obviously not her story. I think it shows an earnestness on behalf of the filmmakers to be more inclusive in their storytelling but it falls to mere tokenism when the story is actually about someone who is an overpowering character. Theoretically we are supposed to see Churchill through the eyes of his assistant Elizabeth Layton but the story of Churchill is the story of a solitary man who is just as likely to have an epiphany in the W.C. as he is dictating a memo to her. The flat dimension of peripheral characters drag the narrative down to a repetitive, snail-like pace.
I still thought this film was okay. It captures a specific and critical moment in time spectacularly. If you are a history buff or are simply interested in all things WWII, it’s a must see. Also, if you are someone who really grooves on great acting, it is certainly on display here and worthy of acknowledgement. Gary Oldman will undoubtedly get an Oscar nod. Ultimately, Darkest Hour does provoke a lot of feelings about war, the toughest decisions and courage in the face of evil.