Every now and then you see a trailer for a movie that just seems so odd that you simultaneously wonder how it got greenlit and also how it’s never been done before. This was definitely the case when I saw the trailer for Danny Boyle’s newest film, Yesterday. In that trailer, we are invited to enter a world where the Beatles suddenly ceased to exist and nobody – except one man – could remember them. It’s such a delightfully strange premise that there were really only two ways the film could end up: a hot mess or a delightful surprise. Thankfully, it’s 100% the latter and it’s such a fun movie carried by a very charismatic lead and some solid filmmaking. (Mild spoilers follow.)
Yesterday (written by Richard Curtis, directed by Danny Boyle)
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James). Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed… and he finds himself with a very complicated problem, indeed.
It’s actually kind of amazing just how boring Darkest Hour (written by Anthony McCarten and directed by Joe Wright) is. It takes over an hour for this film about U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) to actually really get going, and even then it never elevates itself above made-for-tv biopic levels. Gary Oldman is truly stunning as Winston Churchill; he’s nearly unrecognizable! Between the makeup and the clear effort he’s put into not sounding like himself, Oldman completely loses himself in the role of Churchill, and his performance is probably the best part of the film. As I said, the pacing of the film is dreadful. The first hour of the movie moves by at the pace of a snail, doing nothing to really help you connect with any of the characters nor introducing the true central conflict of the film. The only reason the movie even comes close to succeeding is that all of the actors are enormously talented and play well off each other, especially Oldman and anyone who interacts with him.
It’s sad, though, because at the edges of this film is a much more interesting story just itching to be told. Every now and then, the film will cut to one of the two female characters – Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), Churchill’s assistant, and Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas), Churchill’s wife – and explore how Churchill’s actions impact them and the impact they, in turn, have on him. Those elements are the most interesting elements in the film – aside from Oldman’s performance – and a film that explored how the people Churchill surround himself with – men and women – impacted his tenure as Prime Minister, and the decisions he made, would’ve been a far more interesting story than the one we were presented with. As it stands, Darkest Hour is a boring film. It takes forever to get going, and once it does get going, it never amounts to much of anything. It’s mostly competently directed, even featuring some fairly interesting camerawork by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, but Joe Wright’s directing is unable to make up for the sheer dullness of Anthony McCarten’s script. The film is mostly saved by the performances of the actors – chiefly Oldman, James, and Thomas – but even they can’t make this film truly interesting.