The blitzkrieg beginning of the Second World War, where Germany conquered nation after nation at speeds never before witnessed, seemed for all those opposing the Axis powers of totalitarianism, the darkest time in hundreds of years. In the spring of 1940, after taking over most of Europe, Germany was on the brink of capturing all of France, and much of a British expeditionary force.
Darkest Hour depicts the time western civilization was on the brink of destruction. The film begins with Parliament debating the fate of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after the German invasion of Norway, Belgium, and France. Members of Parliament, as well as much of Britain, were holding Chamberlain accountable for his policy of appeasement that produced the failed 1938 Munich Agreement, a treaty between Germany, Italy, and Britain, that allowed Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia on the promise they seek no more land.
Instead of Chamberlain’s claim that he had achieved “peace for our time,” the agreement had given Hitler time and opportunity to prepare for his complete takeover of Europe. After invading Poland on September 1, 1939, Hitler continued the assault on the Continent, and by May of 1940, Germany was poised to take over all of Europe and capture much of the almost 400,00 British troops that had been sent in a futile effort to defend France. With their backs to the Channel, the British army faced annihilation and capture, and the island nation faced the threat of a successful invasion by the Germans.
In the midst of this, perhaps the darkest hour in the nation’s history, Winston Churchill, a fiery orator with a reputation for recklessness, replaced Chamberlain. Gary Oldman is rightly receiving Oscar attention for his transformational performance as Winston Churchill. Kristin Scott Thomas also gives a strong performance as Churchill’s wife Clementine, one of the few persons the bulldog PM turned to for strength and counsel.
Director Joe Wright accentuates the drama of the story with a liberal use of crane, overhead, and tracking shots. Viewers expecting the typical number of action sequences may be disappointed by the film’s pacing. There are several scenes that examine the doubts Churchill and others have for his plans to rescue the British troops in Dunkirk, and his refusal to seek further negotiations with Hitler through Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. But the patient viewer is rewarded with a depth greater than one finds in most action or war films.
Darkest Hour is an important film because it depicts one of the most crucial times in modern history. While the most casual student of history may know of this dark time, the film allows the viewer to feel a bit the reality of the darkness that was the evil and threat of fascism. Knowing the facts of history is not the same as knowing history. Experiencing, even in the slightest way, the feeling of facing such darkness offers viewers a greater understanding of what Churchill, and all of Britain, went through in this pivotal time when Britain was the last dim light in a darkening world. Winston Churchill provided much of the energy and hope for that light through his determination and the power of his oratory. Darkest Hour also reminds viewers living through the current uncertain and dark times of terrorism, aggressive despots, as well as political and social division the necessity and importance of political courage, and placing the welfare of the nation above personal or political party interests.Much of the narrative of the Christian Faith is a story of conflict between light and dark. In the prologue to the Gospel of John, Jesus, the incarnate Word, is described as light and life, a light that the darkness of sin did not overcome. In the first Genesis creation account, God created light, declared it good and separated it from the darkness. This first Light was not the light of the sun but the even greater Light that was of God. In Scripture as well as art and other belief systems, light is associated with life, hope, and knowledge. That the incarnation of this, the Light that would inaugurate a new age and transform all of creation into the Kingdom of God, came into the world in the most humble manners is indicative of the power of this dim, by worldly stands, Light to overcome all darkness, including the darkness of sin. During the Christmas season when Christians belief the Kingdom of God was inaugurated, the hope of Jesus Christ is symbolized by candlelight. The highlight of Christmas Eve services for millions of Christians is holding candles up and enlightening a darkened sanctuary. In so doing followers are reminded that even the smallest light pierces the deepest darkness, and as children of that Light, followers are to take and uphold that Light even in the midst of the deepest darkest times and places in life.
Darkest Hour reflects and offers a worldly example of the Christian belief and power of righteous hope to triumph, even in the midst of seemingly overwhelming darkness.
Darkest Hour is rated PG-13.