Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour shows the other side of the 1940 events depicted in 2017’s equally superb Dunkirk. The latter showed the evacuations that enabled the British army to survive, the former depicted how Churchill, taking the office of Prime Minister almost by default, navigated around the pacifists in his cabinet who wanted to negotiate a settlement with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. In doing so he cemented his status as arguably the most important national leader of the 20th century.

061518_darkest_hour_cover.jpg But at the time of the events here it was not at all a sure thing that Germany would ultimately be defeated. The war would take another five years, including the entry of the New World (in Churchill’s words) into the fight. A surrender by Britain (that’s what any 1940 settlement with Germany would have been, in fact if not in name) would have produced a very different world, one more ominously grim than even the worst nightmares of today’s Cassandras.

As Churchill, Gary Oldman virtually disappears into the character, winning 2017’s Best Actor Oscar. He’s helped immensely by stunning makeup work (which also won an Oscar) and a perfectly nuanced script. Some have complained of the dramatic licenses taken, including a bout of indecisiveness by Churchill ultimately resolved by his interaction with ordinary Brits on the London Underground (subway). But it all comes together in the end. As another character states, Churchill (one of the best speech writers and orators of the age) “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

The film has been shot in a way that makes for a difficult video experience. Nearly every scene is dark, many of them mixing deep shadows with bright backgrounds. Ultra HD in high dynamic range would have been a real help here, but for now, at least, Universal has blessed us with only an SDR Blu-ray. It would be churlish to downgrade the images here too much, however. On a good set it’s easy to see what the cinematographer was aiming for — and largely accomplished. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself fiddling with both the gamma and brightness controls — to little effect.

The sound is beyond criticism, though not ostentatiously showy in a demo-worthy way. But it does have clean dialogue, a few brief action beats, and a subtle, lovely score by Dario Marianelli. It’s also a Dolby Atmos mix, though I auditioned it in Dolby TrueHD 5.1.

The extras are limited, including two “making of” featurettes and a full-length commentary by the film’s director, Joe Wright.

Studio: Universal, 2017
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Format: Dolby Atmos
Length: 125 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James