Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour" is more than just the role of an actor's lifetime. It's England's story, humanity's ultimate story of the 20th century that risked being forgotten as new threats, tensions and dramas play out and capture our attention on the world scene in a new century, a new millennium.
This rotund, vigorous, idiosyncratic, stogie-chomping, alcohol-swilling, Cicero- and Horatio-quoting, alternately jolly and irate, almost default Prime Minister of England was just the right combination of brains, wit and humanity to get the job done. His wife (played exquisitely by Kristin Scott Davis) was his equal and his foil and his cheerleader--comprehending her husband through and through. The King (yes, the stuttering King George VI of "The King's Speech," played by the unrecognizable and always sterling Ben Mendelsohn) gives him the last nudge of confidence to do what he knew he must: what was growing in his heart as the undisputed right thing.
The characters are not just three-dimensional, they're five-dimensional. The grand but not grandiose, ebullient, lively and varied soundtrack beating throughout, sucks us back in time, and although there are lots of mini-speeches leading up to "The Prime Minister's Speech," the film is a foreigner to boredom and a friend to unpredictability, and lots of historical yuks.
England in 1940: What an admirably ordered and orderly society. Everyone had a part to play and there were no little parts. There is great honor and nobility in doing one's job well and being one's self well. Order is something our chaotic world now eschews at the risk of its own free-willed demise. We must convince it of the benefits and rewards of living in accord with reason, the divine plan and one's own nature.
THE NEED TO KNOW MORE
For all the brilliance of this film--as well as the complete makeup magic transformation of Gary Oldman (the phrase "inhabiting the character" comes to mind)--I was disappointed by the lack of exposition in a slightly larger context. "Darkest Hour" takes much for granted of our knowledge of this segment of the World War. After Churchill's rallying speech to Parliament that they should not accept or even hear any terms from Hitler (which is the end of the film), we are only told what happened to Neville Chamberlain (Churchill's immediate predecessor) and to Churchill himself. Yes, this film is cutting close to the bone and rigidly and tightly following a personal story as a historical piece should, but we desperately needed the Epilogue to tell us more. We needed to know that London was indeed bombed to smithereens, and that the Underground (London's subway system) served as a massive bomb shelter. We saw this beautifully foreshadowed when Churchill descends below and polls the commuters as to what he should do. Should England surrender or stand strong? The people wouldn't hear of surrendering.
One statement of Churchill's that has always stayed with me (that I was aware of before this movie was ever made) is: "We may show mercy, but we shall not ask for it." Was this a foolhardy, reckless provocation? Was Churchill drawing down a deeper doom upon his countrymen's heads (while he would most likely be safely locked away in a bunker during the bombardment)? Not at all. Churchill was not being a stubborn, proud, patriotic man. He was telling the world that you don't make a truce with evil. You fight it head on. "What fellowship does darkness have with light?" 2 Corinthians 6:14. Not only England, but the planet needed a man such as Winston Churchill, right at the beginning of the hostile conflagration, to say "Enough!" A little evil, a little savagery is too much. If we compromise here and now on this and that, there is no stopping the slippery slope. (E.g., there is now a pilot program called "Porn Literacy" in high schools in the USA. The thinking is: "We can't stop teens from using porn. At least we can teach them to be discerning and discriminating. To know what might be real and what might be fake." No.)
NO DEAL WITH THE DEVIL
Churchill's instinctive plan was to claim VICTORY, win or lose. Which is the truth. You are already the victor if you are on the side of right. "Nations that go down fighting rise again." "Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for."
"The Darkest Hour" is a masterful, artful, engaging dramatization with no false notes that depicts a truly inspired man, a flawed genius with a clownish visage. A hero, not with swords, but with much-needed words who simply could not stomach evil.
Hindsight is 20/20, but would that each of us learned to respond as quickly and unflinchingly as Winston Churchill to the siren lay of compromise and mediocrity and neutralization in the never-ending battle of good vs. evil swirling all 'round us.
--The face is Churchill's, the eyes are Oldman's.
--Such highly civilized, clever dialogue.
--Such a fine work, fine acting, fine everything.
--As "The Post" is to the age of newspapers, "Darkest Hour" is to the age of speechmakers.
--"state of nature" = "naked" :)
--My father did not like Chamberlain. He would angrily mimic: "There has never been such peace in our time...."
--"Blood, sweat and tears" is a WC quote.
--So many great WC quotes: "You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!" One more reason not to deal with the devil (1 Peter 5:8).
--"We must all die, but let us die well."
--In his great speech, Churchill paints the picture of the so-called "peace" they were being offered: "The swastika flying over Buckingham Palace?!" Then they get it.
--Churchill "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."
-- A lovely speech WC gave at his old school in 1941 (the "never, never, never give up" speech): http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2003/january/14163.html
--Churchill knew that a sense of humor and the warm, common touch were the greatest medicine of all.
--My mum taught me that the hand signal "V" for victory was done as Churchill first did it in the film.... (Otherwise it's just a peace sign!) ????
--The History Channel has a devastating series called "Nazi Collaborators" about heads of nations and other groups who capitulated to Hitler--either passively, reluctantly or willingly. These people and groups are now associated with infamy.