A review of the new film “Darkest Hour”

January 21st, 2018 by Roger Darlington

“Darkest Hour”, an account of Winston Churchill’s premiership in the few weeks before the evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940, can be seen as complementary to two other recent films: “Dunkirk” by director Christopher Nolan and “Churchill” with Brian Cox in the eponymous role. It may be a coincidence that all three works have appeared since the British people (narrowly) voted to leave the European Union, but each of them seems intended to remind us that historically this country has (sadly) always been insular both geographically and politically.

As cinema, “Darkest Hour”, directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement”) and scripted by Anthony McCarten (“The Theory Of Everything”), is an absolute treat. There are some very artful visual compositions and techniques but, above all, this film is made by its actors.

A barely recognisable Gary Oldman is simply brilliant as Churchill, conveying powerfully all the varied emotions for which this this complex (and controversial) character is known. This tour de force portrayal deserves all the awards which it will undoubtably win. But the support roles are also quality, notably Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane as the appeasers Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax respectively, and Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James as the women – wife Clementine and secretary Miss Layton respectively – who calm the volcano that is the new PM.

As history, however, “Darkest Hour” has some serious weaknesses, especially because of something that is not shown and something that is presented as pivotal to the glorious finale.

The missing element of the story is the recognition that Churchill was not alone in opposing a peace settlement with Hitler; his Labour ministers – led by Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood (who have tiny roles in this film) – were equally determined to fight on. The scene to which one has to take great exception shows Churchill using the London Underground and seeking the views of fellow travellers who conveniently are a cross section of the popuation but all back resistance to the Nazis. Not only did this incident never happen; it is quite frankly unthinkable and spoils what is otherwise an informative and gripping account of a huge turning point in British history.

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A review of the new film “All The Money In The World”

January 19th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This is an oddity of a film for at least three reasons.

First, it tells an incredible story – except that it is true – of how the world’s richest man J Paul Getty refused to pay the ransom after his 16 year old grandson was kidnapped by the ‘Ndrangheta in Italy in 1973. Second, surprisingly it is directed by Ridley Scott who has previously been acclaimed for his science fiction movies (such as “Alien” and “Blade Runner”) and history blockbusters (like “Gladiator” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings”). Third, the work had to be substantially reshot when sexual harrassment allegations against Kevin Spacey led to his replacement by Christopher Plummer as the aged plutocrat.

It has to be said that the reshooting was seemless and 88 year old Plummer – much more age-appropriate anyway than Spacey – gives an excellent performance. Mark Wahlberg is assured as ever in the role of intermediary between Getty and the criminal gang. French actor Romain Duris is convincing as one of the kidnappers who goes by the name Cinquanta. But it is Michelle Williams as the kidnapped son’s mother who gives the most powerful and nuanced exposition of a cocktail of emotions.

Kidnapping is a particularly terrible crime and, as it happens, at the time I saw this film I was reading a novel about a fictional child kidnapping (“The Couple Next Door” by Shari Lapena) and great wealth is a mixed blessing (not that I have any personal experience of this) and Scott tells a compelling, if downbeat, story.

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Ever wanted to catch up on some classic earlier movies?

January 17th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Regular readers of NightHawk will know that I’m a massive film fan and review all the films I see for this blog and my web site.

Most of the movies in question are current releases but, over the years, I’ve seen some classics and reviewed them too.

If you wanted to buy, rent, or stream one or two classics to improve your cinema knowledge and have an enjoyable experience, you could do worse than check out my – recently revised – reviews of 59 true classics. Happy viewing!

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Contemporary cinema (2): “Dunkirk”

January 16th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Last week I began another of the many courses that I’ve attended over the years at the City Literary Institute in central London. It is called “Contemporary Cinema: The Best Films Of The Year” and the lecturer is the American John Wischmeyer. The plan is that most weeks we will see and discuss clips from an acclaimed recent film and then compare it to a couple of significant older movies.

This week, the chosen film was Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” [my review here]. We saw an extensive number of clips and then had a short discussion. The lecturer declared that “This is a masterpiece” but one student attacked the work as jingoistic propaganda.

We compared “Dunkirk” with two other British war films: the 2007 “Atonement” [my review here], when we viewed the famous five-minute continuous shot of the beach at Dunkirk, and the 1946 “A Matter Of Life And Death” [my review here], when we saw the famous radio exchange between the principal characters.

I was pleased that, as last week, I had seen all the films under discussion and it was interesting to compare and contrast them.

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Michael Wolff on Donald Trump in “Guardian” interview

January 15th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

“I don’t know if the president is clinically off his rocker. I do know, from what I saw and what I heard from people around him, that Donald Trump is deeply unpredictable, irrational, at times bordering on incoherent, self-obsessed in a disconcerting way, and displays all those kinds of traits that anyone would reasonably say, ‘What’s going on here, is something wrong?’” …

“I got to a truth that no one else had gotten to, not that they didn’t know it. Everyone around Trump thinks he’s a charlatan, a fool, an idiot and someone ultimately not capable of functioning in this job.” …

“This experiment happened. Let’s make someone president who is different and in every way the exact opposite of everything we think a president is and should be. That was the experiment. The positive here is people have realized the experiment has been a failure – even a great number of people who voted for him.”

Extracts from an interview in today’s “Guardian” newspaper with Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House”.

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What do the British think of America’s president Donald Trump?

January 14th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

An opinion poll conducted for the “Observer” newspaper by Opinium has found that:

  • 71% believe that he is untrustworthy
  • 44% believe that he is less intelligent than the average person
  • 18% believe he is a friend of Britain
  • 72% believe that he is a risk to international stability

The newspaper has major leader column assessing the first year of Trump’s presidency and, as regards his performance outside the United States, concludes:

“Internationally, Trump made nuclear war with North Korea more likely, dismayed the entire world by rejecting the Paris climate accord, insulted and threatened the UN over Jerusalem, did his best to wreck the landmark 2015 treaty with Iran and did next to nothing to halt the terrible conflicts in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Afghanistan. Worse still, in a way, he has scorned US friends and allies in Europe and cosied up to authoritarian leaders in China, Russia and the Middle East. Britain has been treated with condescension and contempt, as in his abrupt (but welcome) cancellation of next month’s London visit.”

You can read the full editorial here.

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How the Conservative Cabinet is dominated by MPs from the south of England

January 13th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

“Theresa May’s cabinet has the most members from the home counties in more than two decades, with more than two-thirds of the most senior ministers representing seats in southern England.

Only seven of the 22 full cabinet ministers represent constituencies in the Midlands or north of England. Those seven hold safe Tory shire seats that are outside major provincial cities and are in the top 20% of affluent communities.”

This is the opening to an interesting piece of analysis in today’s “Guardian” newspaper.

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What would really help consumers of essential services?

January 11th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This is the title of a conference which I am putting together and which I will chair in my capacity as Chair of the Essential Services Access Network (ESAN).

At its heart and as its name implies, ESAN is a unique network bringing together regulators and ombudsmen on the one hand and consumer and voluntary groups on the other hand in four essential sectors. These sectors are water, energy, communications, and financial services.

Our conference will be held on 12 March 2018 at the BT Tower. You can see the outline programme for the event and book a place here.

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Contemporary cinema (1): “Detroit”

January 10th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This week I began another of the many courses that I’ve attended over the years at the City Literary Institute in central London. It is called “Contemporary Cinema: The Best Films Of The Year” and the lecturer is the American John Wischmeyer. It is an evening course with one session each week for 10 weeks.

It seems that the plan is that most weeks we will see and discuss clips from an acclaimed recent film and then compare it to a couple of significant older movies. This first week, we focused on last year’s film “Detroit’ [my review here] and compared it with “Medium Cool” (1969) and the French film “The Battle Of Algiers” (1966). Fortunately I have seen each of these three works.

All three films deal with actual events and deploy a documentary style and the course debated how conventional cinema and documentary cinema overlap in look and style. A conventional film using a documentary style tells a story using hand-held cameras and naturalistic dialogue making it look and sound like a documentary. On the other hand, a documentary still has to tell a story and has to be shot and edited with the same tools and choices as a straightforward film.

“Detroit”, as well as narrating a true story and using some actual dialogue, intercuts with contemporary news footage so drawing the viewer into the experience.

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The wonderful work of the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani

January 9th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Currently London’s Tate Modern art gallery is hosting a special exhibition of around 100 portraits by the Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). I first saw this over the Christmas period with my brother and I visited it again today with my sister. Our mother was Italian and we had a reproduction of one of Modigliani’s work on one of our walls at home, so we all love his paintings.

In this review of the exhibition, Laura Cumming of the “Observer” newspaper describes the artist as “tubercular alcoholic, addicted to women, hash and ether, unrecognised, impoverished and dead at 35 with the last painting still wet on the canvas” .

Modigliani’s style is very distinctive and recognisable. Cumming refers to “the long, oval faces and almond eyes, the palette of pink, blue and chestnut, the tubular necks and curvilinear limbs, all that grace and sorrow compounded by the artist’s own tragic existence” and writes of “the basic grammar of ovals, arcs, cupid-bow lips and circumflex nose”.

You can learn about the life and work of Modigliani here.

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