Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published January 18th 2018
Cometh the Hour, cometh the man
Ever since I saw the trailer some months ago, I have been eager to see this film with Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.
Having been bitterly disappointed in 2017's Churchill with Brian Cox, I was hoping that this film might do something to correct the balance about this remarkable man, whose influence in two world wars was so profound.
I am thrilled to report that this film, Darkest Hour, is as good as Churchill was bad. Everything about the film is good - the direction is tight and flowing, the acting is stupendously impressive, the make-up flawless, the music appropriate, the photography spectacular, the writing either lifted directly from published sources of the protagonists or so sensitively written that the join is seamless.
Gary Oldman is Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour (Photograph courtesy of Focus Features)
The action takes place over the worst three weeks in British history - the 9th to the 29th of May, 1940.
When the action opens Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is Prime Minister, France is on the verge of military collapse, the British Expeditionary Force (almost the entire British Army at the time) is in danger of encirclement and capture, the United States is maintaining it's preferred stance of non-intervention, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, all have fallen or are about to capitulate.
Chartwell, Churchill's home (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
Clearly, Chamberlain has lost the confidence of the House and, mortally ill with cancer, he resigns. But who is to replace him?
Looking back with accurate acute 20/20 hindsight and knowledge we know that Churchill does so, inspires the nation with rousing speeches and goes on to drag the United States into the war and win.
But on the 10th of May, all that was in the future and the present was very bleak indeed. The ruling Conservative Party, of which Churchill was a member, serving as First Sea Lord, favoured Lord Halifax to succeed Chamberlain, but as a supporter of appeasement and tarred with the same bush of war unpreparedness Halifax was not acceptable to the Labour Party who were offering a coalition for the duration of the war, if Churchill became Prime Minister.
This he did, on the 10th May, against the stated inclination of the King, George VI, the Conservative Party and most of the House of Commons. They feared his bellicosity, his impetuousness and his history of disastrous errors of the past - Gallipoli, Norway, the White Russian War, the Gold Standard.
Churchill (Photograph in the public domain)
But, he was the lone voice for a stand against Hitler, the lone voice warning against the Nazi and Fascist tyrannies, the lone voice calling for preparations and an increase in defence.
Arrayed against him were all those who had spent the 1930s appeasing Hitler, in Churchill's own words 'feeding the crocodile in the hopes that it will eat him last'.
It's a pivotal time of the utmost peril for western civilisation, a decision which could quite as easily have gone the other way - Boris Johnson's book The Churchill Factor rightly spends a good deal of time on this short period and the possible consequences.
So much for the importance of the perplex, now let's look at the realisation of the scriptwriter and filmmaker.
Gary Oldman with and without make-up (Photograph Courtesy Focus Features)
Firstly, the casting, which is impressive. Each of the actors is exactly right for the part. Ben Mendelsohn (King George VI), Kristin Scott Thomas (Clemmie Churchill), Ronald Pickup (Neville Chamberlain), Stephen Dillane (Lord Halifax) and, of course, the formidable actor Gary Oldman as the formidable politician Winston Churchill.
Oldman, who is completely unrecognisable under heavy prosthetic makeup, turns in a performance that is electrifying in its range and subtlety. The make-up is exceptionally good, moving and realistic as skin texture, aiding, not inhibiting, the actor. If the make-up doesn't win an Oscar, there is no justice.
Comparing this film against Churchill for historical accuracy is like comparing a history book against a colouring book. There are errors and inaccuracies, of course, but minor and excusable since the intent is plain. Churchill never went on a trip on the Underground to mix with the 'ordinary' people and if he had, at that point in time, there would have at least a sporting chance they might have opted for peace negotiations.
But apart from that, and a conflation of Elizabeth Layton Nel (Lily James) with other of Churchill's secretaries, the story is true in intent and execution.
I would particularly commend the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, which is superb.
I fully intend to see this film several more times and I urge you all to see it at least once.