SFFILM honors Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour

Monday night at the Castro, SFFILM recognized Joe Wright and Anthony McCarten’s historical drama, Darkest Hour, giving the film the organization’s second annual SF Honors award. The event included a mercifully short presentation of the award, a screening of the film, and a Q&A with five of the filmmakers.

Darkest Hour follows Winston Churchill’s first month as prime minister – a time when a Nazi takeover of Britain and the death of civilization seemed inevitable. Gary Oldman gives an admirable performance as Churchill, despite the layers of latex makeup. This is not the fearless leader that the world saw during the war, but the struggling, self-mocking, and self-doubting Churchill that he hid from the public; the one facing heavy political pressure to negotiate with Hitler. Sound and picture combine to create a sense of foreboding and claustrophobia, with many scenes shot from high above.

I give Darkest Hour an A.

The film will have a theatrical run soon.

After the film, SFFILM Executive Director Noah Cowan moderated a Q&A with director Joe Wright, writer/producer Anthony McCarten, star Gary Oldman, actor Ben Mendelsohn (he played King George VI), and supervising sound editor Craig Berkey. Here are some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:

Photo by Cyan Hong

McCarten: I started with a germ of the idea about 10 years ago. I realized that Churchill wrote four of the world’s greatest speeches within four weeks. I decided that it would make a movie. Then I realized I would be writing witty dialog for Winston Churchill.

Wright: I wasn’t that interested in Churchill. I was interested in this man who was suddenly given great power and had great doubt. I thought about him as a fictional character.

Oldman: Initially I was reluctant to take the job because he was such an iconic figure. And the difference in physical appearance was an issue.

Berkey: We recorded sounds in the war room – where Churchill really walked at that time. It was location Foley.

Wright, on selecting this project: My last film, Pan, was an almighty disaster. I desperately wanted to get back to basics. And for me, that’s drama – how people connect or, more often, fail to connect.

Oldman: it was an absolute joy every day. After coming through four hours of makeup, it was a real treat to work on this.

Mendelsohn: King George was a man who was never supposed to be king – a person with a deep shyness who had to do the best that he could.

Here are some additional photos by Cyan Hong: