I am often the first in line to watch a period piece or historic film, but I must say my experience of Darkest Hour wasn't as wonderful as I hoped it would be.
Given that the film has received numerous Oscar nods, for Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill, best picture, cinematography, production design, costume design and make-up and hair, I feel slightly let down. I wanted the film to have a little more... spark.
The film follows the English statesman’s journey when he ascended to the post of prime minister at the beginning of WWII. Sir Winston Churchill achieved this feat at the age of 65, even though he was the unlikeliest candidate for the job.
But, with the UK facing the imminent threat of being invaded by Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Churchill was tactically the most suitable candidate. He won over the opposition in the British parliament and was enough of a brute to win the war.
The film starts with scenes shortly before the May 10, 1940 appointment of Churchill. We see Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) being literally forced out of his position. But, unlike in contemporary South African politics, Chamberlain agrees to step down.
I was particularly impressed by Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill. What is also outstanding is the amount of effort from the wardrobe and make-up department. Gone are the angular features of Oldman, replaced by the more heavy-set face of Churchill.
The entire wardrobe is fitting for the 1940s, with the four-piece suits, matching hats and modest calf-length dresses in pastel colours for the women. Their hair was also almost always coiffed into updos.
The cinematography is also something to write home about - particularly the aerial wide shots that come sweeping down into close-ups. The one I appreciated most was in the House of Commons.
The imagery of the civilian ships transporting over 200000 Expeditionary Force soldiers that were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, France crossing the sea after Churchill hatches operation Dynamo, is also beautiful.
The film and set are very authentic to 1940s UK, from the typewriter rooms, to the technology-free walls of the war room and the even darker and bland parliament.
What I did find exhausting about the film is that it’s wordy. Perhaps this is testament to the fact that Churchill was known for - among other things - his skills as an orator. The film has a lot of witty moments, and moments that can be described as simply poetic.
I also appreciated the prominence that was given to Clemmie Churchill (Kristin Scott Thomas), his wife of 31 years, and his typist Miss Layton (Lily James).
These two women may have seemed unimportant to the broader public, but I am inclined to believe, just as the film suggests, that they were his support system in times of difficulty. Thomas looks every bit the elegant prime minister’s wife she portrays.
On historical accuracy, historians have suggested that the film misses the mark in some respects, especially in the scene that suggests he went into the tube to speak to ordinary people, to get their views of the wars. It’s believed Churchill would never do that. It is said he very rarely spoke without preparation. All in all, Darkest Hour is a competent film. And it has its gems.
* Darkest Hour opens today in cinemas nationwide.