Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. Now that’s a casting decision I’d never have seen coming. I mean, he doesn’t look like him. He doesn’t sound like him. How could it ever work?

I can’t deny that part of the fascination of seeing this film was to see how on earth they transformed Oldman into the legendary British wartime leader, but he pulls it off, and impressively so.

I soon stopped wondering how uncomfortable the fatsuit must have been to wear and started wondering how Churchill was going to get on with winning that damn war… not the one against Hitler, but the one with his opponents in Parliament most of whom didn’t seem all that keen on having old Winston taking the reins at all.

The behind the scenes chicanery and political manoeuvring is well portrayed and it does leave you wondering what might have happened if those who opposed Churchill’s rise to the premiership in 1940 and his public rallying call to ‘never surrender’ to Nazi Germany had won the day.

The film also reveals the conflicts within Churchill himself and Oldman portrays the vulnerabilities and the moments of doubt with a skill that makes the outward bombast and the iconic, theatrical speechifying all the more impressive.

The stirring words still have the power to send shivers down your spine and, considering we know the outcome of the war after Dunkirk, there is still a surprising amount of tension throughout the film as the moment of destiny approaches and the political disagreements that preceded it play out on screen.

Perhaps we do spend too much time looking back at these heroic moments of our past than is good for us. But aside from the warm nostalgic glow of a past triumph that most of us watching never lived through, maybe we should also lament that a character such as Churchill was very much of his time, and we will never see the like again.

How would he have fared in the age of intensive and intrusive media scrutiny and daily trial by Twitterstorm and social media? With all his undoubted faults and foibles, would his turbulent political career have even lasted long enough to make it through to this particular Darkest Hour?

Read more about Darkest Hour on IMDB.com

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I hadn’t been to the cinema for a while and then a new Star Wars film comes out, so you just have to, don’t you?

I am of that fortunate generation that was growing up in the 1970s when the original film made its big screen debut, and I can still remember the thrill of queuing up with mum outside the Odeon in Bradford waiting to get in. The anticipation was immense, not even dampened by the bewildering ‘short’ film about American bikers that preceded the main event, which seemed to go on for ages, even though it was probably only about twenty minutes. Then, before the curtain went up (yes, the Bradford Odeon screen had a curtain back then) all the house lights went out, a mirror ball descended from the ceiling and dazzled us all in a fantastical starscape (I was 11, ok, cut me some slack) before the iconic 20th Century Fox flashed up in front of us, the now familiar fanfare parping into my ears for the first time, and then: A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away…

It was the best thing I’d ever seen at the time. So good, I went to see it three more times at the Odeon, and I’m sure I won’t be the only Bradfordian whose emotional attachment to that magnificent building, now long closed and in a sad state of disrepair, held up by scaffolding while politicians and bean counters debate its future, can be traced back to the unforgettable experience of seeing George Lucas’ masterwork for the first time in 1978.

And now here I am, almost forty years later, watching the latest instalment of a saga that shows no signs of ever ending, and thank goodness for that.

Not at the Odeon, no screen curtain or mirrorball at Cineworld either (though no interminable short about American bikers to sit through beforehand, so not everything about modern life is rubbish) but still that same sense of childlike excitement as the film gets underway as they always do.

20th Century Fox logo – check. Parping fanfare – check.

A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away…

These most recent instalments have undoubtedly given the franchise a new lease of life after the trio of underwhelming prequels. The Force Awakens was a glorious homage to the original, reintroducing iconic characters we probably all thought we’d never get to see on screen again, played by the actors who first gave them life. Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) were back!
Except, in the case of Mark Hamill, he wasn’t. We had to wait another two years for The Last Jedi to see him in action, as The Force Awakens focused on Han’s story, his part in bequeathing us the new villain of the piece, Kylo Ren, and the gut-punch ending where, just as it was forty years ago, one of our beloved heroes fails to make it to the final credits.

But he’s here now, all grizzly and grumpy and seemingly rejecting all the efforts of Daisy Ridley’s character Rey to coax him out of self-imposed exile and save the Rebel Alliance with his mastery of the Force.

Speaking of which, they don’t half take a pounding in this instalment, those rebels. And we almost lose Princess Leia herself at one point, as her ship takes a direct hit and she floats out into the vacuum of space.

At that moment I though, ‘ah, so this is how they’re going to write Carrie Fisher out,’ but no, Leia does make it to the final credits after all, leader of what’s left of the rebel forces, which at this stage would seem to be small enough to fit in a Tatooine land speeder rather that an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Of course Luke turned up to save the day at the end. Does that count as a spoiler? I doubt it. It’s a Star Wars movie. You basically know what you’re getting before you buy your ticket. Good guys gotta do what good guys gotta do.

And that’s why we love them, isn’t it?

Roll on the next instalment. Can’t wait. Who knows, maybe it’ll even be on at the Odeon in Bradford.

More on Star Wars: The Last Jedi at IMDB.com