There were a few reasons I wanted to see this film. The Crown has made me more interested in this period of history and how it is portrayed on screen. And on that account I did enjoy the film; my review from here though doesn’t get much more positive. Which is a shame because based on the trailer it seemed like it was going to be a good film.
There was another reason I wanted to see it though; I’d heard good things about Gary Oldman’s performance and given I want Timothée Chalamet to win awards, I wanted to make a comparison. I don’t normally go and see a film purely because it is awards season, but I have invested a lot emotionally in Call me by your Name. I wanted to prepare myself properly for why he isn’t winning, because for a better performance I will accept him losing.
And apparently Gary Oldman is winning all these awards for mimicking someone who was real in a lacklustre film, while Chalamet did something a great deal more difficult. He brought to life a character that had only existed before in Aciman’s book, and did so in a film that matched his brilliance overall. There is no denying Oldman’s performance is very good, but the rest of the film is lacking the same sort of excellency. Of recent portrayals of Winston Churchill I’m going to say that I preferred John Lithgow’s performance in The Crown because of the simple truth; I wasn’t bored watching him.
Churchill came to power the first time during one of the most interesting times in British history, when we were facing the odds and potentially facing annihilation, and the film they decided to make about it contained absolutely no tension what so ever. It is a film about political manoeuvring and it doesn’t work. I’m reminded of what many people say about Titanic; well you know it’s going to sink at the end so what’s the point in seeing the film. Cameron though made it about the characters and with ‘will they won’t they’ tension. Darkest Hour though just felt like a waste of my time because I knew how it was going to end.
There are certainly some very good scenes; the one near the end of the film when Churchill is conversing with some people on the Underground is by far the very best in the entire film, but there were moments when my mind was wandering because I just wasn’t gripped enough to pay attention. Kristen Scott Thomas is certainly to be commended for putting up with portraying a character that brought nothing to the plot, and existed only because Clementine Spencer-Churchill did exist in real life, but she was completely unnecessary for the film.
I always try and give constructive criticism; I always try and say how I think it could have been done better, but in this case the problem is entirely to do with the fact they decided to tell the wrong story. I am very much with Viscount Halifax by the end; Churchill mobilised the English Language, without having yet achieved anything to justify the support he is demanding. There were no stakes, because Dunkirk was a success and I knew it was going to be, and annoyingly the film ended before it succeeded, meaning all the praise Churchill is getting at the end is purely based on his ability as an orator.
Even more annoyingly several prominent characters in the film just suddenly decide to support him without any development as to why they change their minds, when they had been pretty vocal beforehand as to why they were so against him. Chamberlain to an extend was there for the ‘We will fight on the beaches’ speech in parliament, but why did King George suddenly change his mind?
All I can suggest is that they needed more tension, and they needed better character development then it might have worked better. I know that it is based on real life events, but some creative license would have made it a better film. And it is the historian within me saying that, not the writer, because as a historian I have to defend myself against the ‘history is boring’ argument a lot, and boring historical films don’t help.
And this is all disappointing really, because I had been looking forward to seeing this film and unless I’ve missed something, I just don’t understand the hype. All I can hope is that Chalamet gets the chance in the future to win awards, because in my opinion he deserves one this year, but I’m thinking it is less and less likely he’s going to get one for portraying Elio. *sighs*