DARKESTHOUR shows the other side of the 1940 events de­picted in 2017’s equally su­perb Dunkirk. The lat­ter showed the evac­u­a­tions that en­abled the Bri­tish army to sur­vive, the for­mer de­picted how Churchill, tak­ing the of­fice of Prime Min­is­ter al­most by de­fault, nav­i­gated around the paci­fists in his cabi­net who wanted to ne­go­ti­ate a set­tle­ment with Hitler’s Nazi Ger­many. In do­ing so he ce­mented his sta­tus as ar­guably the most im­por­tant na­tional leader of the 20th cen­tury.

But at the time of the events here it was not a sure thing that Ger­many would ul­ti­mately be de­feated. The war would take another five years, in­clud­ing the en­try of the New World (in Churchill’s words) into the fight. A sur­ren­der by Bri­tain would have pro­duced a very dif­fer­ent world, one more omi­nously grim than even the worst night­mares of to­day’s Cas­san­dras.

As Churchill, Gary Old­man vir­tu­ally dis­ap­pears into the char­ac­ter, win­ning 2017’s Best Actor Os­car. He’s helped im­mensely by stun­ning makeup work (which also won an Os­car) and a per­fectly nu­anced script. Some have com­plained of the dra­matic li­censes taken, in­clud­ing a bout of in­de­ci­sive­ness by Churchill ul­ti­mately re­solved by his in­ter­ac­tion with or­di­nary Brits on the London Un­der­ground (sub­way). But it all comes to­gether in the end. As another char­ac­ter states, Churchill (one of the best speech writ­ers and or­a­tors of the age) “mo­bi­lized the English lan­guage and sent it into bat­tle.”

The film has been shot in a way that makes for a dif­fi­cult video ex­pe­ri­ence. Nearly ev­ery scene is dark, many of them mix­ing deep shad­ows with bright back­grounds. It would be churl­ish to down­grade the im­ages here too much, how­ever. On a good set it’s easy to see what the cin­e­matog­ra­pher was aim­ing for—and largely ac­com­plished.

The sound is be­yond crit­i­cism, though not os­ten­ta­tiously showy. But it does have clean di­a­logue, a few brief ac­tion beats, and a sub­tle, lovely score by Dario Mar­i­anelli. It’s also a Dolby Atmos mix, though I au­di­tioned it in Dolby Truehd 5.1.

The lim­ited ex­tras in­clude two “mak­ing of” fea­turettes and a com­men­tary by the film’s direc­tor,

Joe Wright.

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