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Darkest Hour


Stars: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane, Samuel West, David Strathairn (voice)

Director: Joe Wright

This affecting, if at times fanciful film focuses solely on the month of May 1940, as Winston Churchill (an impressive Oldman) is called to the UK premiership to replace the vacillating Neville Chamberlain (Pickup), who is in any case terminally ill.

Britain is at war with Germany, and all Europe is crumbling under the Nazi jackboot. 'I have nothing to offer,' Churchill declares, 'but blood, toil, tears and sweat'.

The new premier soon discovers that those items are the last things on the minds of the influential appeasers led by Chamberlain and a spectral Lord Halifax (Dillane). Churchill is sceptical of their ideas - 'you cannot reason with a tiger,' he roars, 'when your head is in its mouth' - but feels cornered into suing for peace.

He finds an unexpected ally for the idea of resistance in the King (Mendelsohn), with whom he has previously not got on, and the scene is set for the famous Parliamentary speech that ends the film (and unfortunately also ends the trailer).

A scene in a tube train where Winston meets real people does not come across as too convincing, but the performances, and tension of real events, are what carry the film.

James does well in the character of a secretary, presumably largely invented by the scriptwriters, and, although Mendelsohn rather overdoes the King at first, the Australian character ace grows into the part, and at least looks more like the real thing than Colin Firth.

Pickup and Dillane are sternly excellent as what we might now regard as the bad guys, but it is of course Oldman who dominates the film, as near a dead ringer to Churchill as a ton of latex will allow.

David Quinlan

UK 2017. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour (unspecified).
125 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 06 Jan 2018