January 27th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Loy Yang just latest critical asset to go offshore

EDITORIAL Behind the power shift in the Middle East

CANBERRA OBSERVED Freedom of religion just an afterthought?

GENDER POLITICS Family Court washes hands of gender-dysphoric kids

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Western sanctions have forced Russia to upskill

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS China exerts soft power on our southern neighbour

ENVIRONMENT Senate committee puts marine life before people

SEXUAL ABUSE Royal commission report ignores cause of abuse

HIGHER EDUCATION Critical thinking and the culture of skepticism

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS U.S. urges Taiwan rearmament to counter China threat

PHILOSOPHY A reflection on thoughts of Richard Dawkins

MUSIC Group theory: A good band is greater than its parts

CINEMA Darkest Hour: A long time till dawn

BOOK REVIEW 'Populism' and the new social divide

BOOK REVIEW Poems outshine dross of inept introduction

POETRY

LETTERS

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CINEMA
Darkest Hour: A long time till dawn


by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, January 27, 2018

2017 saw the release of Jonathan Teplitzky’s Churchill starring Brian Cox as the great man in the lead-up to D-Day. Now, in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, we have Gary Oldman’s Churchill in the lead-up to Operation Dynamo, dealing with the collapse of Western Europe under the German blitzkrieg. Once again we see Churchill in conflict with his associates over the best course of action, although this time the story is more anchored in facts and his adversaries are not generals, but politicians.

The film opens in Parliament where Clement Atlee’s (David Schofield) Labour Party is giving its support to a wartime coalition with the Conservatives – but not one headed by then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), the man widely blamed for the lack of preparedness for German aggression. Chamberlain accepts he must resign and would prefer Edward Wood, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), to take the post. Halifax, however, declines and the role goes to the loved but feared Winston Churchill.

Churchill assumes command of a dire situation. Apart from one garrison in Calais, what’s left of the British army has retreated to Dunkirk to await evacuation – an evacuation that is proving nightmarish to orchestrate as the harbour is strewn with wrecked ships and the Luftwaffe controls the skies. The French leadership has no plan for counterattack and the Germans keep coming. The United States has a policy of strict neutrality, and will not help Britain in any material way. In the newly formed war cabinet and with their allies Churchill argues for fighting on, until the end if necessary, but a faction around Halifax and Chamberlain believes the only way to survive is to sue for peace. And the King himself (Ben Mendelsohn) is in two minds about the situation.

Unlike Teplitzky’s Churchill, in which “dramatic licence” became downright misrepresentation, undermining the film’s many superb qualities, Darkest Hour succeeds in being accurate – at least to a point. While Halifax supported negotiations, Chamberlain was more ambivalent and the Labour and Conservative members were opposed. Even the case of Halifax is more complex. Before the war he had focused on a policy of rearmament with the view that deterrence would work against Hitler.

As for Churchill himself, he was always opposed to any sort of peace treaty and believed the only option for Britain was to fight. Nonetheless, he did permit a “theoretical exploration” of the prospect – most likely because he knew it was politically necessary for him to do so, as Halifax had a lot of personal support within Parliament.

In some ways, as many have noted, Darkest Hour is a companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s magnificent Dunkirk, with director Wright quipping that it was the “most expensive second unit shoot of all time!” Dunkirk focused on the experiences of the soldiers and the airmen and the “Little Ships”; while Darkest Hour focuses on the political drama at home that enabled the rescue to take place. It rightly includes the mastermind and prime mover of Operation Dynamo, Admiral Bertram Ramsay, whose organisational abilities might have been unglamorous but were essential for the operation’s success.

Dunkirk was also an essentially cinematic construction with characterisation secondary to the overall experience. Darkest Hour, while still cinematic, is a more dramatic exercise, carried by its monologues, its conversations and without a doubt, its performances.

In this case, the advertising spiel – “Gary Oldman is Winston Churchill” – is entirely correct. Oldman delivers an incredible inhabitation of the leading character, invaluably aided by makeup maestro Kazuhiro Tsuji.

This is a movie about Churchill – but one that takes place around the battle of Dunkirk. Churchill was a film about D-Day, with Churchill as the lead. It further contrasts with The Crown, which depicts an ageing Churchill at the end of his public life.

Darkest Hour is a masterful exploration of the life of a master at one of his most impressive times. It evokes both the ruthless and tragic calculations that must be made in times of trouble and does so with genius and even humour, showing the dawn of peace that would ultimately break through the darkness.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).




























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