An Oscar-worthy and robust performance from Gary Oldman fails to save Darkest Hour from the pangs of an anemic narrative structure. Portraying Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the opening days of World War II, he grows out of his delusions and saves England from Nazi tyranny (Main Character Resolve of
Changed and Story Outcome of
—the reason why remains a mystery.
Main Characters grow out of their justifications when a competing, alternate perspective challenges the way they do things. An abundance of contentious arguments find a voice through Chamberlain and Halifax (Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane, respectively), but these function as objective logistical counters to Churchill’s headstrong approach—not subjective emotional disputes.
King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) stands ready to fulfill the all-important Influence Character Throughline. As does Churchill’s wife, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas). Unfortunately, the narrative fails to provide these two with the appropriate point-of-view necessary to challenge and influence Churchill through his growth.
The right kind of influence
Churchill’s throughline is the one thing the narrative of Darkest Hour accomplishes with high effectiveness. The Prime Minister’s challenge—the one thing he suffers through on his own—is his reputation (Main Character Throughline of
Universe). With a history of defeats and questionable decision-making, Churchill directs his efforts towards his life’s as-yet-to-be-written most great chapter (Main Character Issue of
Fact, Main Character Focus of
Proven, and Main Character Direction of
Unproven). His preference for vagueness in matters of details and substance is a direct result of these past failures (Main Character Problem of
Non-accurate) and indicates why he can so easily delude himself.
The counter-balance to the Main Character struggling with these specific issues is an Influence Character steadfastly obsessed with what is most important. A Main Character Throughline of Universe calls for an Influence Character Throughline of Mind. A Main Character struggling with Issues of Fact needs an Influence Character Issue of Value. This relationship is how a narrative balances the two opposing points-of-view and how it makes an argument for the strength of one over the other.
Unfortunately, Darkest Hour fails to attach this perspective to King George or Clementine consistently. Clementine’s scolding of Churchill’s behavior towards his assistant is one successful instance. King George’s re-affirmation of his rightful place in England and his refusal to leave is another. These moments whisper and lose their effectiveness because of the significant distance between them.
A lack of heart to balance all the yelling
As a result of this insufficient and inconsistent alternate perspective, a meaningful relationship that grows out of the dissonance between the two also goes missing. Darkest Hour lacks heart, the kind of spirit that rests within the Relationship Story Throughline. Flashes of intimacy appear briefly between husband and wife and between subject and King, yet flutter away before gaining ground within the narrative.
The result is a narrative half-baked and relying exclusively on the performance of one man to make its presence known. Darkest Hour is a brilliant re-enactment of Britain’s final days leading up to the war, and nothing more. Without a sufficient alternate perspective to challenge Churchill to grow and a relationship to support such an argument, the narrative loses integrity and diminishes its attempt at gravitas.