‘Dark­est Hour’ shines

Win­ston Churchill biopic gives new per­spec­tive

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By ANN HORNADAY

Un­til this year, per­haps the great­est piece of moviemak­ing about Dunkirk was only part of a movie: It was a breath­tak­ing se­quence of the mas­sive World War II evac­u­a­tion, filmed in one as­ton­ish­ing five-minute take that dra­mat­i­cally punc­tu­ated the movie "Atone­ment," di­rected by Joe Wright.

Now Wright re­turns with a fully fledged Dunkirk film: "Dark­est Hour" is al­ready re­ceiv­ing awards chat­ter for Gary Old­man's de­li­ciously crafty por­trayal of the film's main sub­ject, a newly minted Bri­tish prime min­is­ter named Win­ston Churchill. But this isn't just film-as-back­drop for a tow­er­ing cen­tral per­for­mance. Wright brings his sig­na­ture good taste – in­clud­ing sump­tu­ous, jewel-box sets and el­e­gantly staged set pieces

– to an en­ter­prise in which Old­man's hugely en­joy­able star turn is equaled by sim­i­larly well-judged per­for­mances from Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Men­del­sohn.

Hand­somely filmed, in­tel­li­gently writ­ten, ac­cented with just a dash of out­right hokum, "Dark­est Hour" ends a year al­ready laden with ter­rific films about the same sub­ject – in­clud­ing the win­some com­edy-drama "Their Finest" and Christo­pher Nolan's boldly vis­ual in­ter­pre­tive his­tory "Dunkirk" – and ties it up with a big, crowd-pleas­ing bow.

"Dark­est Hour" be­gins in May 1940, when the war is al­ready un­der­way in Europe, ac­com­mo­da­tion­ist forces still hold sway in Bri­tain, and Ger­man troops have taken France, set­ting their sights on the is­land across the English Channel. When Prime Min­is­ter Neville Cham­ber­lain is forced to re­sign, the va­grant winds of for­tune blow in Churchill's gen­eral di­rec­tion: Al­though he has re­cently been in the "wilder­ness" af­ter a dis­as­trous po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, he's deemed the most ac­cept­able choice among flawed con­tenders.

"It's not a gift," he says grumpily when the PM po­si­tion is dan­gled be­fore him. "It's re­venge."

Fol­low­ing the tem­plate of the most riv­et­ing biopics, screen­writer An­thony McCarten es­chews the soup-to-nuts Wikipedia ap­proach, in­stead drilling down into the pe­riod that would shape Churchill into the iconic fig­ure whose high-toned com­port­ment and rhetoric seem like dimly re­mem­bered dreams to­day. "Dark­est Hour" fea­tures many of the hu­mor­ous Churchill-isms that make him en­dur­ingly beloved: the cigar, the long baths, the love of cham­pagne, the cud­dly-cur­mud­geon wit.

But it also gets to the canny, self-aware op­er­a­tor be­neath the avun­cu­lar sur­face: When he broad­casts his first big speech, his ac­torly in­stincts take over, and it's clear he's a nat­u­ral who's best on his feet and un­der pres­sure.

Hand­somely filmed, in­tel­li­gently writ­ten, ac­cented with just a dash of out­right hokum, “Dark­est Hour” ends a year al­ready laden with ter­rific films about the same sub­ject, and ties it up with a big, crowd-pleas­ing bow.

Jack English/Fo­cus Fea­tures

Lily James stars as sec­re­tary El­iz­a­beth Lay­ton and Gary Old­man as Win­ston Churchill in "Dark­est Hour."

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