Nurse Clive and old Jack are just back from the cinema! My hopes were high, the sheer joy of dodging the rancid crumblies (specifically the Brexiteers from the nut job wing) was teetering on vibrant – oh, the glory of it. We hit the road and nestled into the fat-arsed seats at the new Showcase on the hill. Darkest Hour ahoy…
I had two hotdogs and a slushy in honour of Winston Churchill. Oh yes. For this film is all about Britain’s scariest month in WW2 – May 1940 – when the entire army was backed onto a beach in Dunkirk; Poland, Norway and the rest were falling to Hitler’s mania; Belgium was teetering – and all we had was Neville Chamberlain, a vote of no confidence, and a film noir parliament. And then Churchill – the great gourmand and Black Dog depressive – gifted the Prime Ministerial seat by a doubting King and coalition who could only stand Winston as their leader. Go win the war, please. Don’t bugger it up.
Days were indeed bleak. And a tad too old-man masculine for my tastes. Old Jack has always preferred the female half of the species and nary given a thought to all those strutting young boy-actors of the 1960s. Well, if you’ve wondered what happened to them, Darkest Hour has yanked them out of retirement, brushed off the bark and squeezed them into suits and mighty moustaches. Spot the crumbling-lovey is half the fun of this film: come at me with Jeremy Child and I shall smite you with the wonderful Benjamin Whitrow in his final cameo.
Of course, we’re in the modern world, so Kristin Scott-Thomas gets to do a sharp-set turn as Clementine Churchill (she is funny and much-needed and is a film in the waiting) whilst Lily James is Elizabeth Layton, secretary and chief emoter to the Prime Minister. She is also much-needed but so damned nice to be with that she resonates through the growly-men scenes.
And there are many growly-men moments – all dominated by Gary Oldman and his fat suit’s fantastic performance as the main man. He slugs from duty, to petulance, to bleak doubt and back to rabble-rousing verbal heroics. And it is entrancing. The likeness is closer to Robert-Hardy-as-Churchill than the man himself, but he convinces from the silk-robed off, burbling through clouds of cigar smoke and senior years. Old Jack felt for him, shining through the dark whilst slowed by the treacle of his wrecked, gourmanded-out body. And – as the script tweely points out when the Black Dog gets him: he carries the weight of the world. Oldman shows us something the newsreels never knew.
There are ghastly moments, mind. The glorious Ronald Pickup (a dying Chamberlain) and workmanlike Stephen Dillane (a chinless Halifax) snipe weasily at Churchill’s certainty, almost as though hindsight were painting them simply… Winston charges off to the Tube to spend a ten minute scene (on a one minute journey, fact fans…) with the goodly, simple folk of this Island. They re-energise him with their faith, hope and determination. Really. It’s uplifting but utterly, exhaustingly manipulative. Give up? Never!
And then you twig where the film has decided to stop. It goes from anti-Churchill sniping to he’s-a-mad-warmonger snarking, to the Tube twist, to a speech we all don’t quite know by heart. And then – brilliantly – gives us spoilers in footnote form as the fag-smog floats out of mind. I won’t share the spoilers in case you don’t know how the war turned out.
If you can get out of your home and want to watch a monumentally effective star vehicle and a nearly-history of how real and terrifying that war was to our world, get thee to a cinema. It’s cartoonish in places, but this story means everything. And – oh yes – it is a tale of old men and their old battles winning a modern war.
Nurse Clive and I pootled back to the home in a good mood. For all the silliness, we felt decidedly more British than we had on the way out. We came in past the Brexiteers on the nut job wing and, you know, thinking about the Darkest Hour and their dreams for an independent Britain away from the machinations of Europe…
…nah, they’re still a bunch of dicks.