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Darkest Hour (2017)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/27/2018
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/15/2018
In the recent past, we have had many discussions about biopics and true-life movies and their place as Oscar bait. And, as we've discussed, these films are often divided between well-known and very obscure subjects. (The latter of which typically fall into a "Why don't we know more about that?" category.) However, even when one is familiar with the person or event being profiled, there can still be a lot to learn. For example, on the subject of Winston Churchill, I basically knew two things: 1. He was a key figure in England during World War II; and 2. Iron Maiden has been known to play his speeches before live performances. And that's about it. Thus, I had a lot to learn from Darkest Hour.
Darkest Hour examines a very specific period in the life of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) -- May 9, 1940 to May, 28 1940 to be exact. As the film opens, England is in peril. The Nazis are making their way across Europe and France is under siege. Parliament has loss confidence in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), so Churchill is moved into that position, despite some concerns over his military mistakes in the past. With his personal secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), in tow, Churchill convenes a war cabinet, comprised of both allies and naysayers, and begins to plan how England should approach the Nazi threat. Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) wants to negotiate a peace treaty, using Mussolini as a go-between. However, Churchill doesn't like the idea of having Britain look weak. As he attempts to deal with the situations involving British soldiers who are trapped on the beach at Dunkirk, Churchill wrestles with putting British lives on the line.
Screenwriter Anthony McCarten, (who also wrote The Theory of Everything, so I guess he knows his biopics), has certainly taken a gamble with his unique approach to the material in Darkest Hour, an approach which certainly has its pros and cons. On the positive side, by focusing solely on just a few weeks in Churchill's life, the material is both streamlined and very detailed. The film's two-hour running time moves at a brisk pace, as the movie takes us into many important meetings which occurred during this time. As stated, the amount of detail is refreshing, as we are front-and-center for things like Churchill's phone conversation with President Roosevelt (voiced by David Strathairn), something which could have easily been swept under the rug in a more bloated movie, or his intimate moments with his wife, Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas). The high point of the film comes when Churchill confronts a group of Londoners to get their views on the war. When I went back to watch certain parts of the movie, I was surprised by how long this scene is, for its sense of authenticity made it seem much shorter when I watched the film the first time.
The drawback to how Darkest Hour tackles this material is that it is too micro-focused. As stated above, I don't know much about Churchill, and after watching this film, I still don't. Granted, I know exactly what happened in those few weeks, but I know very little of the man himself. His past failures are mentioned, he speaks briefly of his parents, and the fact that he's never ridden the subway hints at a life of privilege, but that's about it. I suppose that the film is aimed at British audiences who have more of a working knowledge of the man. The film does end with some text letting us know what happened next, but I could have done with some details on what occurred before May, 1940.
Of course, if one is going to discuss Darkest Hour, one must talk about Oldman's performance. Even with the layer of makeup which makes him look like Churchill (and kudos to the film for using good, old-fashioned latex makeup), Oldman's strong acting and mimicry of Churchill's voice comes through. He has been asked to carry the film, as he's in nearly every scene, and his role is a roller-coaster from the famous fiery speech before Parliament to being vulnerable in his bedclothes. This is captained by the steady hand of Director Joe Wright, who has a strong history with historical dramas. The only real hiccup with Darkest Hour, and this is a small thing, is that it deals with Dunkirk, just like the movieDunkirk. Having seen Nolan's film, the air was let out of the suspense surrounding Churchill's rescue plan. Outside of that, Darkest Hour is a solid biopic which does a great job telling its story, but would have benefited from opening things up a bit more.
Darkest Hour made me realize that I've only seen Lily James in period pieces on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The film has a muted palette, but the colors look fine and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, as Oldman's makeup holds up under scrutiny and the depth works quite well. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The scenes in Parliament display nice surround sound, as the cheers and jeers of the gallery flow through the rear speakers. The few scenes from the war bring us palpable subwoofer effects. The stereo effects show off good separation.
The Darkest Hour Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Joe Wright. "Into Darkest Hour" (8 minutes) is a brief, but dense featurette which contains comments from the cast and creative team, who talk about the characters and the historical view of the film. "Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill" (4 minutes) examines the challenge of having Oldman give the physical and vocal performance, and we hear from make-up artist Kazuhiro Tsuji, who explains the transformation.
Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long