Film Review: Darkest Hour

Movie Poster Long

If you don’t already know about my love for history and all things World War II please refer to my review of Dunkirk and my ode to Mrs Gold, my gem of a high school history teacher. Everyone deserved a Mrs Gold. Darkest Hour is a wonderful companion to Dunkirk. Although it is not about the evacuation of the troops stranded on the beaches in France, it does cover what was happening politically in London while the battle was being fought in Christopher Nolan’s land, sea and air visual masterpiece (even if it was somewhat lacking in storyline). Darkest Hour kicks-off straight into action with the resignation of Neville Chamberlain and the appointment of Winston Churchill as the new Prime Minister. He was no one’s first choice. Both Chamberlain and King George VI wanted Lord Halifax, but he turned down the position, feeling Churchill would be a more suitable war leader, and likely feeling as though he could take over if Churchill failed. There is no doubt they were handing over a country in a complete shambles.


Addressing Parliament Large

Almost immediately Churchill is under pressure with almost the entire British Expeditionary Force in danger of being wiped out or taken prisoner in Dunkirk. Furthermore, the British forces will suffer major material losses on the ground even if they can evacuate, having to leave behind tanks, huge supplies of ammunition, guns, motorcycles and cars. They have a small force of 4000 men stationed at Calais, that Churchill immediately decides to put into action to try and buy the men in Dunkirk more time. While he desperately tries to come up with a miracle to rescue the 300 000 men stranded on the beaches in France, even calling in a favour to American President FDR whose hands are tied by peace treaties, pressure mounts on him to engage in peace negotiations with Hitler, using Italian president Mussolini as a mediator.

Dunkirk

The film is wonderfully orchestrated, largely filmed in the War Room, you almost feel the claustrophobia. Although we the audience have the value of hindsight I found myself yelling at Lord Halifax, who was really pushing the issue of peace talks. How naïve can a person be? Had they learned nothing from Czechoslovakia, and then Poland, followed by Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, and now France. Did he honestly believe that Hitler, in a position of such strategic strength would give them terms that left them with any amount of sovereignty? He would have had the Swastika flying over Buckingham Palace before the sun rose. And as usual, Churchill seemed to be the only one to realise this. As he yells as them: “When will the lesson be learnt? When will the lesson be learnt? How many more dictators must be wooed, appeased, given privileges; before we learn? You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”

With no support in the War Room, Churchill turns to the people. Ditching his usual taxi ride, he decides to take the London Underground for the first time in his life and he engages with his constituents. He gauges their opinions on how they would feel about surrendering to the Germans. The decision is unanimous. They would rather fight in the streets, to the death, with broomsticks if they had to, than surrender. Next, he goes to the Outer Cabinet and other members of Parliament. They also fully support him, should the worst come to the worst and the Germans invade, they will defend their small island rather than surrender. Later, when Churchill addresses the whole of Parliament with his infamous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, he even gets Chamberlain’s support and all thoughts of peace negotiations are forgotten. With the help of civilian vessels, such as fishermen’s boats, yachts and pleasure cruisers, 338,226 men escaped Dunkirk, including 139,997 French, Polish, and Belgian troops. Churchill gets his Dunkirk miracle.

Ending

When it comes to History vs Hollywood, the embellishments are pretty easy to spot. Although I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he did have a very close relationship with his wife Clementine, especially as Kristin Scott Thomas’s performance was excellent. The majority of Lily James’s character Elizabeth Layton’s storyline was fictional as she only became Churchill’s secretary in May 1941. She also did not have a brother who died in France. Churchill was however well-known for being hard on his staff, so that part is accurate. The late-night phone call to President Roosevelt is also fictional as that phone line did not exist until 1943. However, Churchill did write a letter to FDR on the 15th of May asking for help. Churchill had been corresponding with Roosevelt since he had become First Lord of the Admiralty in September 1939. The late-night visit from King George VI is also pure Hollywood; while Churchill and the King did grow to become close friends, it took a lot longer than a few short weeks. Similarly, Churchill’s ride on the London Underground is pure fiction. While Churchill did often disappear, and it is believed he went to mingle with the people of London, it is beyond extremely unlikely he would have ventured on such a journey at such a perilous time.

Clementine

As Gary Oldman said in an interview with Film 4, Winston Churchill knew all about branding before anyone even knew what the word meant. The distinctive Victorian era suits, the bow ties, the top hats, the cane, the cigar. Even the gait of his walk and the distinctive way he had of speaking. Televisions were not widely available in homes yet and photographs in newspapers only provided minimal insight. He needed to create an image, and that he did. He made sure that even if he arrived in the remotest village in the outskirts of his little island, the people would be in no doubt that they were in the presence of Winston Churchill. Even to this day, people the world over can coax up an image of Winston Churchill, probably somewhat resembling a bulldog, in a tuxedo of sorts, wearing a top hat, smoking a cigar. They probably have no idea what Teresa May looks like.

V for Victory

When I saw the trailer for Darkest Hour I was blown away. I was like, “Holy crap, they’ve risen him from the dead!” The make-up and prosthetics seemed unimaginable. It was like looking at Winston Churchill. It was like listening to Winston Churchill. I have loved Gary Oldman for a good many years. I praised jeepers when he was cast as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. I was livid when he lost out on the Oscar for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to an actor no one had ever heard of and has never heard of since – as so often happens. I was excited. This was his year. Everyone was saying it. The bookies will give you virtually nothing. He has the Oscar in the bag. They might as well give it to him now. But the trailer is only two minutes and twenty-one seconds long. The movie is two hours and five minutes long.

It absolutely breaks my heart to type this but… I have seen Helen Mirren be the Queen. I have seen Daniel Day Lewis be Abraham Lincoln. I have seen Joaquin Phoenix be Johnny Cash. It wasn’t long before the magic wore off and I was very aware that I was watching a man in a fat suit and prosthetics pretend to be Winston Churchill. And I was hearing Gary Oldman’s voice, not Winston Churchill’s. And it was very distracting. He was brilliant, don’t get me wrong. But he wasn’t Winston Churchill. Too many great actors have won Oscars because they are great actors and they deserve to have that golden statue on their mantelpiece and I fear Gary Oldman is about to become one of them. I watched Phantom Thread and Darkest Hour on the same day. You only have to read my review of Phantom Thread to know I am not Daniel Day Lewis’s biggest fan, but if I am honest, he put in the better performance this year. He already has three Oscars, he doesn’t need another one. Like I said, it breaks my heart. I want Gary Oldman to be an Oscar Winner. Just not like this.

I don’t really know what else to say. It was a good movie. A good telling of a pivotal moment in history that ultimately shaped our world. If Halifax had taken over goodness only knows what we would be looking at today. It was a little bit too Hollywood here and there. The costumes were amazing. The make-up broke new ground. Gary Oldman was superb. If he hadn’t been playing such an iconic man… But he was.

Rating: 3/5

themanyfacesofgary-oldman

 

Advertisements

Film Reviews: Phantom Thread

When I began my quest to watch and review all of the Oscar nominated movies before the awards ceremony back on the 17th of February I honestly did not anticipate sitting at my laptop the night before the ceremony typing furiously, with four reviews still unwritten and two movies yet to even be watched. What can I say; I got cocky. I didn’t factor in my immensely hectic TV series watching schedule. I didn’t anticipate getting addicted to The Handmaid’s Tale (A late bloomer, I know). And I forgot that the Six Nations was starting. (Go Ireland!) I reviewed a movie that was nominated for best adapted screenplay and nothing else and doesn’t even stand a chance to win that, (no regrets, Logan was a well spent 2hours and 17minutes). I would probably feel better if I, Tonya was nominated for more than three awards, not necessarily because it deserves it, but just because of the amount of time I put into the review. I probably should have used that time to watch another movie.

Phantom-thread-poster

When I started this process, I had already decided I would NOT be watching Phantom Thread. They had me at Daniel Day Lewis. I have never been a fan of “method acting” even if that’s what it took for my beloved Leonardo Di Caprio to FINALLY win his Oscar in The Revenant, but Daniel Day Lewis takes it to a whole other level of creepy! When playing Christy Brown who suffered from cerebral palsy in 1989’s My Left Foot, he refused to leave his wheelchair for the duration of filming, had to be carried around set and insisted that his meals be spoon-fed to him. Three years later for The Last of the Mohicans he learnt how to track, hunt, and skin animals and would only eat food he had killed. When filming Gangs of New York he caught pneumonia because he refused to wear a warm coat because it wasn’t in keeping with the times. The only movie I enjoyed him in was The Boxer, which, being about Northern Ireland, I feel more obligated to love than anything. And for that role his obsession was to spend eighteen months learning to box, which as the movie is about boxing, seems reasonable. Obviously his technique works. He’s got the little gold statues to prove it. Although he seems to be losing his hair.

Daniel Day Lewis

In Phantom Thread he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker in 1950s London, who designs exquisite, once-off gowns for royalty, movie stars, socialites, and heiresses. He works closely with his sister Cyril, who runs a tight ship at The House of Woodcock, handling the business side of things and even managing his personal life for him. Women come and go through his life, providing inspiration and companionship, but when their time is up, Cyril must do the dirty work. His life is his work, often all-consuming and overwhelming and so he often retreats to their country home to recuperate. It is on one of these trips that he encounters Alma, a waitress at a local café, who immediately captivates him. He is attracted to her physicality – she is the perfect canvass for him, and her initial doe-eyed infatuation creates a false perception of submissiveness. She seems perfect.

Meet Cute

Reynolds has spent time and effort constructing his life just the way he wants it. After all, when someone is a genius and has been told as much their whole life they have grown accustomed to getting their own way. When Alma doesn’t slide as smoothly into the role he has written for her as he had hoped an interesting battle unfolds. For a while we almost fall into a romantic comedy of sorts, with the darkness of knowing that sometimes someone will just never love you the way you want them to.

And then comes the kicker that will ultimately determine whether you love or hate this film (or possibly get up and walk out). I have always said that you can never judge anyone else’s relationship because you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. What works for two people might not work for anyone else, but as long as it works for them, that’s all that matters. This film really puts that theory to the test. Because what if what works is a little bit twisted? What if the only way to make your relationship work is to be vulnerable, or to force your partner to be vulnerable? To put them completely at your mercy and then bring them back from the brink. It’s odd. Some might say psychotic. But if it works, then who are we to judge?

Creating the Dress

This movie surprised me in the most wonderful way possible. Yes, Daniel Day Lewis was annoying and creepy, but he also made me laugh out loud a few times. He was superb, I won’t attempt to take that away from him. Reynolds Woodcock was not a real person, so he drew on many famous characters from the world of fashion for inspiration. And in preparation for the role the most bizarre thing he did was re-create a Cristóbal Balenciaga sheath dress inspired by a school uniform. I can cope with that. Co-star Vicky Krieps, who plays Alma, admitted that she found it difficult on set because he always remains in character, but eventually she dealt with it by remaining in character herself and socialising with him between takes like that.

Reynolds and Alma

In a year of strong female performances, Vicky Krieps was another real treat. Alma was flippin kickass (Perhaps the psychotic streak aside, as a disclaimer). There are times when Reynolds acts as nothing short of an ungrateful, petulant toddler, trying to justify himself with his ‘brilliance’, but she’s having none of it. Reynold’s sister Cyril, played by the nominated Lesley Manville, also puts in an immaculate performance of a woman of steel. At one point it’s almost as if the two of them team up trying to stage-manage this drama queen that they both love but at the same time want to strangle.

Three of Them

The only thing this movie needs is a new trailer. The trailer makes it looks seem really dark and intense and melodramatic, which is what put me off. In reality, it’s nothing like that. It’s actually quite airy and there are some moments of perfect humour. And of all the movies I’ve seen in as long as I can remember, it’s the most honest depiction of a real relationship that I’ve seen onscreen. (Once again, perhaps psychotic streak aside, but each to their own). It’s about what happens after the butterflies calm down and you have to begin to navigate that territory of joining two lives into one. It’s about the compromise that goes into that. And what works for some, is psychotic to others.

Rating: 4/5

Never Cursed