Darkest Hour ★★★★

An electric chamber piece that couldn’t more perfectly complement “Dunkirk” if Christopher Nolan wrote it, “Darkest Hour” is as rousing and ferocious as Winston Churchill was himself. It’s also a hell of a lot more controlled. Unfolding with the clockwork precision of a Broadway play — director Joe Wright has always been at his best when he’s been at his most theatrical — this tightly coiled retelling of Churchill’s first days in office is more than (yet another) passionate appeal to our collective goodness, it’s a deliciously unsubtle testament to the power of words and their infinite capacity to inspire.

That the film arrives at a time when words seem to have lost all their value only makes it that much more persuasive.

Hardly the first time that Wright has fetishized the sway of language and its ability to shape history (“Atonement” was so lost in letters that Dario Marianelli wove the clatter of a typewriter directly into his score), “Darkest Hour” is a symphony of pencil scratches and carriage returns. And words — so many words, nearly all of them screamed. It starts by spelling out its title across the full length of the screen. The date is May 9, 1940, and Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) has officially lost the confidence of his government. He’s a timid man, and a dying one, and you have to speak very loudly in order to be heard in Parliament. If only there were some barking old bulldog waiting in the wings.

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