Joe Wright’s majestic directorial adaptation of Ian McEwan’s tragic romantic war story is a poignant study of petty revenge and class conflict. The scene on Dunkirk beach is the standout cinematic moment of the film as James McEvoy’s weakened soldier, Robbie Turner, flanked by compatriots portrayed by Daniel Mays and Nonso Anonzie, vainly attempts to find a way off the beach.
The scene is shown in one long five minute take and involves a certain beautiful, poetic and brutal chaos. Dario Marianelli’s soaring score and a male choir on the beach accompany images of: naked men skinny-dipping, horses being shot, crushed boats, blazing fires, spinning carousels and big wheels; as trapped soldiers remain in peril from bombs overhead.
Aside from the cinematic and technical achievement on display the emotional impact is surreal, heartfelt and haunting. The power from the film’s denouement when we discover much of the episode has been filtered through Saoirse Ronan’s unreliable narration makes the scene all the more heart-breaking.
Produced by: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Douglas
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn
What makes human beings want to go to war? What is it that determines thoughts and actions which will lead to the death of another human being? Is it: a genetic trait; a tribal desire; a psychological defect; financial gain; jealousy; boredom; passion; political chicanery; religion; greed; anger; revenge; or quite simply madness. Taking a life is something I have never understood. I mean, unless you are forced to defend yourself against a foe hell-bent on your destruction why would you wish to harm anyone else?
So, Adolf Hitler has a lot to answer for because, even accepting the political and social reasons for the rise of the Nazi party and his desire to repair national pride after the first World War, what the hell gives a nation the right to invade and conquer other countries. If you choose to go down that road you are signing the death certificate of a generation men and women and children. It’s not just Germany either. The British Empire, Roman Empire, Vikings, Mongols, United States of America, France and many more have waged war against humanity down the years. Will it ever stop? Sadly, I doubt it.
In times of war what is needed is obviously bravery, steel, fight, intelligence and more than a little luck. You need hearty human beings to stand and be counted and to die on the battlefields and in the air and in the sea. You also need leaders; figureheads who can rally the troops and galvanise that last ounce of fight in order to repel the enemy. During World War II, with the country on its knees and backs to the walls we had many leaders, but Winston Churchill, above all else, became synonymous with victory.
As portrayed in Joe Wright’s beautifully shot microcosmic epic, Darkest Hour, Churchill is presented as a flawed-pink-pyjama’d-cigar-chuffing-blustering-iconoclastic-functioning-alcholic prone to fits of rage, melancholy and depression. He also happens to be devilishly intelligent, full of energy, with a wicked tongue and talent for brilliant oration. Much of the plaudits must go to Gary Oldman, and his make-up team, for creating such a wonderfully human portrait. Indeed, Oldman owns the screen with his damned-near perfect impression.
Anthony McCarten’s fine script centres on a finite number of days during World War II when Churchill became Prime Minister. Aside from one emotionally effective yet historically grating symbolic scene on the London underground, is it well written with fantastic one-liners and Churchill’s greatest verbal ‘hits’. Joe Wright is a talented director (the mis-guided Pan (2015) aside) and he evocatively conveys the shadow of looming defeat. Wright traps Churchill and ensemble in cars, lifts and in underground chambers. Shafts of light also pin the characters to the corners of the screen; pushing them toward the darkness. But through the spirit of Churchill’s never-say-die attitude we fought back against the Nazis and eventually stole victory from the jaws of defeat. War is hell. War is madness. But sometimes it is unfortunately a necessity to prevent the bullies from winning.