He smoked too much, he drank too much, he offended too many, he scared some, he had doubts, he was Winston Churchill. Every accolade Gary Oldman has received for his performance is well deserved. You can see the concern, the agony, the lost sleep, the very thought processes on his face. It is a tour de force. This is not an action movie, but the tension is palpable. Winston is isolated and he knows it, but he perseveres. In hindsight, his decisions seem easy; the movie shows the obstacles he had to overcome.
It is 1940 and the British are losing everywhere to the Nazi war machine. Neville Chamberlain is forced to resign; the opposition against him in Parliament was vicious. No one really wants Churchill as he carries lots of baggage, including a Gallipoli disaster. With little support in his cabinet, uncertain support from his King, and a looming loss of the British army at Dunkirk, he is urged to seek peace with Hitler. He seeks help from the Americans, to no avail. England is truly alone. What will happen to his people when, not if, Hitler invades?
Kristen Scott Thomas has a small part as Clementine, his wife, who helps with his resolve. Lily James is Elizabeth Layton, his secretary, who admires Churchill while putting up with his mercurial personality. Ronald Pickup is appropriately pacifist as Neville Chamberlain. Stephen Dillane is solid as Lord Halifax who could have been Prime Minister but turned it down. Clearly, he would have pursued peace overtures, and the course of the war would have changed drastically if he had been successful.
This is a must-see for history buffs even though there is the usual cinematic “puffing.” For example, the scene in the Underground did not occur. Nevertheless, the essence of the movie is accurate, i.e., Churchill was way out on a limb but through the force of his personality he was able to bring others along. Facing potential annihilation, he was the right person at the right time. Will this movie bring great commercial success like Dunkirk ($525 million)? Not likely, no battle scenes here. As for me, I was highly disappointed in Dunkirk, yet quite pleased with the Darkest Hour. George Santayana said those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Winston Churchill learned that appeasement doesn’t work and, from that lesson, the world is a better place.