The narrative of history provides many a story worthy of capture on film.
It is a rare narrative moment that provides for two stories to be placed on the screen, but the events of May 8 to June 4 in 1940 have yielded two best-picture nominees.
Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” tells the story of what happened when the British people took to their leisure crafts and brought home the army from defeat in France.
Joe Wright provides the background to “Dunkirk” with his fine film, “Darkest Hour.”
The movie begins with a no-confidence vote in Parliament for Neville Chamberlain (Jordan Waller).
Eight months earlier, Chamberlain returned from meeting Hitler with a peace pact, signed by Hitler.
Chamberlain promised then, “Peace for our time.” But Hitler did not keep his agreement and plunged the European continent to the brink of war.
At the time, the British people had been stung from the losses a generation before in World War I.
But the opposition party in Parliament made it clear they would no longer accept Chamberlain and the only person in the ruling party they would accept as prime minister was Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman).
Churchill gets summoned to the palace to meet the king (Ben Mendelsohn), who invites him to form the government and begin work as the leader of the English people.
Churchill begins with a determination that Hitler cannot be trusted and must be fought, no matter the cost.
While no one knew the extent of Hitler’s intent toward the Jews, Churchill knew that Hitler was a man who must be removed from the stage of history. Each moment Hitler was allowed to be in power put the world into greater peril.
While this is playing out, a faction within Parliament aligns with Chamberlain and Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) that wants peace with Hitler.
They did not see Hitler as an existential threat to England. He was a man who could be reasoned with and both Chamberlain and Halifax held out the need for peace talks with Hitler, brokered by Mussolini.
This group plots to have Churchill removed if he will not agree to have talks with Hitler.
Behind this, the British army is being driven to the sea. All of this hangs on Churchill.
Grounding this movie is the work of Gary Oldman. Behind prosthetics and lots of cigars, Oldman puts forth the fire that Churchill had not only to take on the Germans, but also his own Parliament.
Oldman is nominated for best actor at this year’s Academy Awards; it is well deserved.
Yet, this is not a showcase for Oldman. Director Wright puts together a finely crafted film that plays out with all the building tension of the events it depicts.
With the use of block letters to indicate the date, Wright drives home the tension each event adds to the historic implications of each action.
One of the things the movie does well is call to the fore what is a just war. With the 20th century now past, and the ability to see clearly in hindsight, we can see the wars of that time with a critical eye.
“Darkest Hour” makes the clear case that what happened in those days, which led up to what is known now as the Second World War, gave clear justification for the war.
Churchill believed rightly that there was never going to be peace with Germany as long as Hitler was head of the German government. Hitler was taking countries in his march to be dictator of the world.
Without knowledge of Hitler’s “Final Solution” for the Jews, the need for war was clear. And the discovery of genocide attempted by Hitler made the war necessary.
“Darkest Hour” gives insight into the inner workings of how England came to the decision to wage war against Germany. It is a fine film, well worth its Oscar nomination for best picture.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic material.
Director: Joe Wright.
Writer: Anthony McCarten.
Cast: Gary Oldman (Winston Churchill), Ben Mendelsohn (King George VI), Stephen Dillane (Lord Halifax), Ronald Pickup (Neville Chamberlain), Kristin Scott Thomas (Clementine Churchill).
The movie’s website is here.