And now we get to a back to back double feature of British war movies, starting with Darkest Hour. I find it interesting to see this and Dunkirk sitting right next to each other since they both centre on the same event told from different perspectives. In this case, it’s told from the perspectives of British Prime Minister as he leads the fight against Adolf Hitler.
It’s May 9, 1940 and the British Parliament has lost all faith in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup). With the Nazi party invading Belgium, Chamberlain is deemed too incompetent to handle Hitler. So, the Conservative Party needs a leader and there’s only one man the opposition will listen to; War Cabinet member Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman).
But even Churchill knows there’s great aversion to his being appointed. His own party dismisses him as a bombastic bully who makes rash decisions. King George the Sixth (Ben Mendelsohn) has never forgiven him for siding with his brother’s abdication from the throne. Both believe Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) would be a better choice.
Churchill was already at odds with his party, but this clash comes to a head when British soldiers are surrounded by enemy fire in Dunkirk. Chamberlain and Halifax want him to negotiate with the Nazis, but Churchill insists Great Britain take him on. His experience in war informs him that Hitler is not someone to negotiate with. With Chamberlain and Halifax conspiring for his resignation, his soldiers in danger and the fate of Britain in his hands, Churchill make his party realize “you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”
On the surface, Joe Wright’s films seems like the typical costume drama. Known for period novels like Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, it’s quick to brush his films off as the kind of films you’d watch with your parents. But Wright seeks opportunities to enhance the stories through unique visual and sound styles. He had Dario Marianelli score Atonement with a typewriter to connect with Briony Tallis’ (Saoirse Ronan) passion for writing. He had Anna Karenina take place entirely on stage. For Darkest Hour, Wright emphasizes Churchill’s emotional turmoil through visual cues. When he meets with the King, they stand between two windows to emphasize the riff between them. When Churchill calls FDR to ask for tanks, the camera emphasizes the crammed space of the room to symbolize how trapped he feels. My personal favourite is before Churchill’s first radio broadcast. When the recording light turns on, everything turns red and the world goes silent. The pressure is on for Churchill.
Just as deserving of praise is Anthony McCarten for his magnificent script. He brings a lot of humanity to the characters. While you disagree with Chamberlain and Halifax, you can understand them wanting to protect their country from the devastation of war. In one heartfelt scene, Chamberlain of his fear of never seeing his country in peace again. McCarten also brings out Churchill’s fears and insecurities as he watches countries surrender to the Nazis and fears his decision getting soldiers killed. McCarten is also unafraid to showcase Churchill’s worst traits. In Churchill first scene, McCarten shows him berating new secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) (“many, many, many. How many “manys” did you put on there.”) to the point of tears. But those flaws also served as a strength as he stands by his principle against opposition on his side. McCarten also gives Churchill many hilarious lines of dialogue like “Don’t interrupt me when I’m interrupting you.”
It interesting for this film and Dunkirk to be nominated in the same years. Seeing these films back to back offers more perspective on the Miracle of Dunkirk. In fact, I imagine some editor will inter cut these two movies to create one supercut movie. Now we will speak of the other half of this double feature, which I consider my favourite film of 2017.
 Which also happens to involve Dunkirk.
 This ignores his trippy action flick Hannah and an episode of Black Mirror.