Release Date(s)2017 (February 27, 2017)
Studio(s)Perfect World Pictures/Focus Films/Working Title (Universal)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
On the 10th of May, 1940, with the Nazi war machine sweeping across mainland Europe and pushing British and French forces into the sea at Dunkirk, Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as the Prime Minister of England. It was a desperate time, with invasion seemingly imminent and many in the British government pushing for Churchill to sue for peace with Hitler. Instead, the new Prime Minister rallied his nation to war, in the face of overwhelming odds, rightly knowing that “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” Churchill’s hope was that Britain could hold out long enough to convince the United States to join its cause. Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is the story of this difficult period of history, Churchill’s perilous first month in office, up to and including his famous speech to the House of Commons on June 4th.
The film stars Gary Oldman in arguably the finest performance of his career. It’s hard to imagine a face as familiar as Oldman’s disappearing into any role, much less Churchill, but disappear he does. It’s not just superb makeup that does the trick here; Oldman somehow assumes Churchill’s manner and affectations with such skill and aplomb that even historians working on the film were surprised. The supporting cast delivers fine performances too, including Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) as Churchill’s wife, Lily James (Baby Driver) as his personal secretary, Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) as King George VI, and Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones) as Lord Halifax. Pulling things together, Wright’s direction is deft and insightful, with a strong theatrical touch, balancing the personal moments with key historical events. This is, all around, a brilliant piece of work.
Darkest Hour was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (3.4K) using ARRI Alexa cameras and finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate. It’s presented here in 1080p HD at the proper 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The resulting image offers lovely fine detail and texturing, evident in everything from wallpaper and fabric to skin and the wood grain of furniture. The color timing is pushed toward the warm, with rich tones. In Churchill’s first appearance in the film, during a working breakfast in bed, you can see gold, blue, orange, and green books in the case beside his bed, while the brandy in his glass is a rich caramel color, and his skin tones are completely natural. Contrast is good overall, with bright whites and decently-dark shadows, though the use of atmospheric smoke occasionally grays things out a bit. In any case, this is a title that would really benefit from a release on the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format, but unfortunately Universal hasn’t seen fit to announce one yet for the US market (though there IS one due for release in the UK on 6/4 – it seems possible that it could be released here too eventually).
Audio is included in a good English Dolby Atmos mix (Dolby TrueHD compatible) that’s expansive up front and features nice use of the surround channels for ambience and directional effects. The height channels are employed for sonic atmosphere too, but there are occasions when they offer a bit of good effects play, particularly during the film’s theatrically-staged transitions (via motorcar, aircraft, and elevator). The dialogue is clear and clean, there’s a light but stout foundation of LFE, and the Dario Marianelli score is well blended into the mix. Additional audio options include Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and English Descriptive Audio in 2.0 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Universal’s Blu-ray release includes only a few extras as follows (in 1080p HD):
- Audio Commentary with director Joe Wright
- Into Darkest Hour (8:16)
- Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill (4:19)
The audio commentary is quite good, definitely the highlight of the disc. There are periods in which Wright says little, or uses few words, but when he does speak his observations are interesting. The two video features do include generous screen time for both Wright and Oldman, as they talk about the character work and the production overall. They’re solid, but nowhere near comprehensive. Essentially, they’re EPK material. The film certainly deserves more. Even a good historical documentary would have been appreciated. You do, at least, get a DVD copy of the film and a Movies Anywhere digital code.
Darkest Hour is a magnificent film that’s likely to win Oldman his first Oscar for Best Actor. Wright and Oldman do a fine job of humanizing this bigger-than-life historical figure, a deeply flawed human being who was also exactly the right man at the right time. Universal’s Blu-ray is solid, though some of you may wish to hold out for 4K. Fans of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (reviewed here) should also note that Darkest Hour makes a perfect double feature with it; Wright’s film gives viewers exactly the background and war room material that Nolan’s omits. In any case, Darkest Hour is a gem. Don’t miss it.
- Bill Hunt