Movie review: Darkest Hour

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve finally found time to watch Gary Oldman’s Oscar picture Darkest Hour and this is my review.

IMDb summary: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.

Before we start discussing this film, let me link you to another Churchill biography from 2017 titled, surprise surprise, Churchill. That film focused on the closing moments of WW2 (in contrast to this movie, which explores the opening chapters of it). Also, if you want more context for Darkest Hour, you can watch Dunkirk, also from 2017: the events in that film happen at the same time as the ones in Darkest Hour.

Writing

Darkest Hour was written by Anthony McCarten (writer and producer of The Theory of Everything and a novelist) and he did a spectacular job writing for the character of Churchill (less of a stellar job constructing the story of a film but, then again, the character was the story in the case of this movie).

Churchill was presented as a complex and layered figure, one that had both flaws and redeeming features. He was basically the last choice for the position of PM and, yet he became the hero of the nation and half of the Western world. He came from a privileged background (didn’t even know the correct hand gestures) and, yet was also the man of the people (the underground scene was a great visualization of his transition from being the PM for the government to being the PM of the people). He was also a patriot through and through and, yet he decided to lie to his nation (is there ever a good enough cause to withhold the truth?). He also has worked with people with diverging opinions and personalities all his life and, yet have never really learned to comprise. In addition to being a leader, who deeply felt the loss of his troops (the fact that it is the leader’s main objective to bear the loss is as true in real life as it is in fiction, a.k.a. The Last Jedi), he was also a husband and a father, who sacrificed his family life for the public one. And yet, Churchill’s and his wife Clementine’s relationship was portrayed as a very loving and caring one. The moments of confrontation were present in it too, but the shared feeling between the two individuals was love, at its purest.

The screenwriter also did a very good job with the inclusion of Churchill’s actual speeches into the film. However, while those speeches were truly inspirational, especially the final one, probably not one of the initial listeners (other politicians) were that inspired to do any actual fighting. The scriptwriter also wrote some brilliant dialogue for Churchill and King George VI (yup, the one from The King’s Speech – this is a well cinematized period of the British history) – I especially liked the King’s change of heart moment. Darkest Hour also explored or hinted at some of the wider implications of war. The moment with Churchill calling Franklin D. Roosevelt was a perfect signal of the reversal of fortunes of the former colony and the empire. Speaking about the empire: every WW2 (or any war) movies I watch raise me a question: is there ever the good side in the war? Yes, Hitler was a monster but the British Empire was an empire, that oppressed millions of people around the globe for way longer than Hitler was in power. How do count who is worse? By human loss? By time? By subjective and personal evaluation? Lastly, some historical events portrayed in the film, when put in contemporary context, made me chuckle ironically, like the fact that the majority of the British politicians were ready to compromise, while they are not known for their ability to do the same nowadays (*cough, cough*, Brexit).

Directing

Joe Wright (of such literary adaptations as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina and mainstream missteps as Pan) tackled the Churchill biopic and was quite successful. Darkest Hour was truly a character piece, and a specific glimpse into, rather than a full-on recreation of a historical event. I loved how the camera’s focus was always on Churchill and how he occupied the center of the frame most of the time (I loved the images where Churchill was framed in doors, windows, rooms). I also thought that the drama was constructed quite well, though a film did felt a bit long. Lastly, I reached a sort of a personal epiphany that probably wasn’t intended by the director, when watching the picture. Seeing all the rooms of white old men in the positions of power was all good and appropriate for a historical drama but as soon as I saw them, I had a sad realization that this image has changed very little in the governments of today.

Acting

Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard was his last film – what a step-up in quality this one is) absolutely nailed the titular character. He fully transformed himself into Winston Churchill. While the physical transformation (the make-up and the prosthetics) were impressive, what I found most intriguing (and transformative) about Oldman’s performance was his demeanor, emotional intensity, and his way of speaking. I also appreciated the fact that Oldman played Churchill as a real person rather than a historical figure. By treating Churchill as a person, Oldman (and the director) found room for humor and sarcasm within the character – two things that don’t really come across in the history textbooks. Oldman has won every major acting award so far, thus, an Oscar win is almost a sure bet too.

Kristin Scott Thomas (The Party) brought warmth and strength to Clementine Churchill, while Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) was really good as King George VI and portrayed the royal as a real person rather than a larger than life figure too. Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) was good as the secretary Elizabeth Layton but her character wasn’t really necessary for the film. Also, I feel like a secretary type of character (with either a boyfriend or a family member being at war or in another kind of peril) has been included in alongside portrayal of Churchill: e.g. Ella Purnell played PM’s secretary in Churchill, while Kate Phillips played one on The Crown. Lastly, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane were good as the two main antagonists of Churchill: Neville Chamberlain and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, respectively.

In short, Darkest Hour was a brilliant character piece that featured a truly magnificent performance by Gary Oldman.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Darkest Hour trailer

Darkest_Hour_poster

 

Advertisements

Anna Karenina: the book + the movie

Movie reviews

Good morning!

Welcome to my first ever book v. movie comparison!

Yesterday I’ve finally finished Anna Karenina by XIX century Russian author Leo Tolstoy. This famous novel has been on my radar for a very long time but only last week I actually found time to read it. (My spring break was last week – the week before Easter). As a fan of classical novels and as a history lover, I’ve really enjoyed the book. Prior to reading it, I had no experience with any Russian authors and was kinda bias towards them but Tolstoy’s work completely changed my point of view. Also, despite the fact that I’ve been studying Russian language for quite some time now, I’m still rubbish at it, so I chose to read the book in English instead, though I prefer reading books in their original languages.

The same night, I’ve finished the book, I’ve watched the movie adaptation of it – I chose the newest version – Joe Wright’s 2012 adaptation with Keira Knightley, Jude Law , Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Matthew Macfadyen, Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson. I believe that the film did justice to Leo Tolstoy’s story and I’m going to explain why I think that.

The director took an interesting approach on the setting of the film. Wright’s choice to portray the story as a theater production was innovative and modern but, at the same time, maintained the feeling of the original material: the posh-ness, the splendor, and the artsy-ness. To my mind, Tolstoy’s characters were very dramatic and sensitive, sometimes even too sensitive. By turning these characters into theater production’s actors, director allowed them to be over-the-top, permitted them to over-react to anything and overanalyze everything. Also, the novel Anna Karenina is extremely long, so I applaud Wright’s ability to tell this complex and lengthy story in 2 hours.  Plus, because all the scenes were set in a theater, they were all shortened but remained true at their core. Moreover, by shortening all of them, the director did not need to cut something out and I always appreciate when book-to-movie adaptations include as much details as they can . (However, in the film one character didn’t attempt suicide as he did in the book and they really compressed the second part of the book into the last 30 minutes of the motion picture). Lastly, the transitions from scene to scene were splendid and flawless.

The visual appeal of the film is unbelievable: the costumes, the hair and the make-up were amazing, the sets – breathtaking and both magical and realistic at the same time. I loved the musical score too! All the actors were perfect in their roles. The dialogue was also really witty and smart. I liked that they cut out all the political discussions: they are interesting to read but not as fun to listen to. (Also, in order to understand some arguments, I usually had to reread those political discussions a few times and you can’t do that in the film).

A few of my favorite scenes:

Both in the book and in the film: Kitty and Levin playing with blocks (if I remember correctly, they used chalk in the book – either way, I loved both versions).

In the book: the first meeting of Anna and Vronsky and the accidental encounter at the train station.

In the film: the ball, the dancing and especially Vronsky/Anna dance.

Both the book and the film explored the themes of society and its judgement if you break certain rules. It also touched on the differences between men’s and women’s rights. In addition, Anna Karenina focuses a lot on the question of adultery and the differences between genders in that aspect. It seems that women are usually the victims: Dolly was the true victim, Betsy – not so much – she could fool around and get away with it while Anna was a completely different story – her circumstances worked against her. Speaking about the men of the book: Stiva was playing with fire and remained unburnt while Vronsky got an unhappy ending. What I’m trying to stay is that, although at first glance it looks like the woman is always the victim, that is not the case sometimes.

Love is another themes explored in this story. To my mind, the story has this nice contrast between its characters: Kitty and Levin were complete opposite of Anna and Vronsky. While one symbolizes the pureness and sensuality of love, the other portrays the passion and the desires. And I, personally, cannot pick one or the other…There is no reason for love…one cannot explain the causes of it…one can just feel it. Additionally, love and jealousy are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exists without the other. This kind of portrayal of love was humane and, though I love fairy-tales (proof), a realistic approach to love is also pleasing and refreshing.

To sum up, despite the fact that I couldn’t relate to any of the characters on any level both in the book and in the movie, I was still mesmerized and completely taken by them. The book broke my heart but the movie just shattered it to pieces completely. From now, both the film and the movie are on my favorite lists and this doomed from the start love story – always on my mind. I only wish that they would make another movie and would focus more on Kitty and Levin this time.

Rate: 5/5 – both the book and the film

Trailer: Anna Karenina (2012)

Next on my reading list – The Perks of being a Wallflower.