I admit I had my reservations about Darkest Hour, a historical drama following Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) during his first two months in office. While Churchill is certainly a figure to be admired and celebrated, did we really need yet another biopic fawning over an old, white man and his many triumphs? What more was there left to learn about him? Well, so it turned out, quite a lot.
First coming into view from the light of a matchstick struck to light his cigar, we are introduced to him with Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), his newly-appointed secretary. But between her nerves and his bumbling vernacular, Miss Layton is (presumably accidentally) flashed, chided and yelled at for a mere typing error, fleeing from the room in tears. In the space of five minutes, Oldman, equipped with fat suit and cigar, presents a spluttering, warbling, grumpy buffoon of a man.
Having been firmly advised by his ever-patient wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) to embrace a kinder and more approachable demeanour in the face of his imminent appointment of Prime Minister, Churchill and Layton start again. That day, he is appointed Prime Minister, and Layton comes along for the ride.
While the significance of a secretary in the story of a politician navigating his country’s journey into war may seem surprising, it is herself and Clemmie who bring out his humanity. They say that behind every great man there’s a great woman – well in this instance, there are two. It is often these women who we have to thank for Churchill’s rawer moments of humanity and relatability. He steps outside of his parliamentary bubble, puts aside his own grievances and pride, and allows them to guide him towards addressing the needs of his people, rather than the wants and demands of his ambitious parliamentary rivals. He wholeheartedly takes on every word of caution, every protest, acknowledges every burst of laughter and welling-up of tears, and in his own eccentric way applies their advice, whether consciously given or not, and applies it to his work, to the bafflement and delight of the people.
In Darkest Hour, we are given a glimpse into Churchill’s most private moments with the unsung heroes who gave him the strength to bring his people through the war, winning universal approval and admiration along the way.
Image: Universal Pictures