‘Darkest Hour,’ ‘Black Panther’—stories on leadership



PLUS: The brilliance of ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

Joe Wright’s “The Darkest Hour” focuses on an incredibly tense set of weeks in the history of Great Britain and the world. On May 10, 1940, 65-year-old Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain at a time when Holland, Belgium and France were falling to Hitler’s Nazi forces. Britain could have easily come next.

In the words of screenwriter and producer Anthony McCarten “Pedestals are for statues, not for people, and a close reading of the minutes reveals not only a leader in trouble, under attack from all sides and uncertain what direction to take, but also just how dangerously close a country came to entering into a ‘peace’ deal with an enemy who, if unchecked, would have reshaped the world forever.”

But at this crucial moment, Churchill listened to both his instincts and to what he felt was the genuine pulse of the people. He rallied his country and government with the power of his speeches. The three speeches Churchill wrote and delivered between May and June 1940 served as “linchpins” for the screenplay. In the words of John F. Kennedy, Churchill “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

To the world they are Prime Minister Churchill (Gary Oldman) and Lady Clementine Spencer Churchill (Kristin Scott-Thomas ) but to each other, they are just ‘Winnie and Clemmie’

Gary Oldman—powerhouse actor and chameleon who has played Sid Vicious, Beethoven, Lee Harvey Oswald and Dracula (among countless others) disappears into Churchill with the help of prosthetics and make up genius Kazuhiro Tsuji. Both actor and artist are nominated in the upcoming Oscars.

Meanwhile, Kristin Scott-Thomas is an amazing as Churchill’s wife Clementine who Wright describes as his “confidante, conscience and critic.” Also in the cast is Lily James (“Cinderella,” “Baby Driver”) who plays his secretary Elizabeth Layton.

“I loved reading Elizabeth’s autobiography. She knew she had a job to do and a fighting spirit, her book was just so full of admiration and you can see she really loved Churchill, as did I think all his inner circle of staff; he was incredibly hard and strict and wanted things how he wanted them, but he had this spirit of generosity and this incredible wit and humor,” James noted.

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Marvel is such a juggernaut when it comes to superhero movies; they’ve been on a roll since 2008’s “Iron Man.” This year, their 18th movie, “Black Panther” is not only an exciting landmark film that deserves all its praises, it brings us a different kind of superhero—one who must also be king of his people.

In the words of Chadwick Boseman who plays King T’Challa aka The Black Panther, “He’s a world leader and with that comes the responsibility for an entire nation and considering its place in the world. That’s something that other superheroes don’t commonly have, but he must also uphold his legacy. It’s an interesting combination.”

Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station,” “Creed”) not only delivers a film that thrills us, it also probably will affect different members of the audience in several ways.

I particularly loved the women in this film: the Dora Milaje (elite women warriors who are the King’s personal guard); Okoye, general of the Dora (Danai Gurira, the “Walking Dead’s” Michonne); Nakia, a spy (Lupita Nyong’o, The Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Basset); and Shuri, T’Challa’s tech genius sister (Letitia Wright).

These women were fierce, powerful, inspiring and they stepped up to the challenges, to the point of risking their lives, for a leader and for causes they believed in.

It was also great to see the exchanges between Okoye and Nakia. As Lupita Nygong’o put it, “Okoye and Nakia have a sisterhood, but also one that is challenged because Nakia doesn’t do so well with authority figures and Okoye also doesn’t do so well with rebels. So, Okoye represents the old guard and tradition while Nakia challenges it. They have a deep respect for each other, but they just see the world differently.”

One of the lines I remember most in the film comes from T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka, “The world is changing. Soon, there will only be the conquered and the conquerors. You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be king.”

In a world full of demagogues, can history and comic books be the only places we can find truly inspiring leadership?

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Martin McDonagh, writer and director of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” also wrote and directed “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths.” That’s certainly an indication he’s got flair for intelligent dialogue and writing mixed up, and perhaps not necessarily likeable, characters.

The female lead is a woman named Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) who at times may be unhinged yet capable of making witty comebacks, throwing shade and summoning up immense resolve in seeking justice for her daughter’s rape and murder.

McDormand draws us to Mildred with yet another one of her fine performances—she’s a strong contender for this year’s Oscar. Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are also both nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category of the Academy Awards for this film.

This is one of those smaller films with no special effects, no juggernaut franchise, no pandering to common denominators but it breaks through all that and stands out.

“Black Panther,” “Darkest Hour” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” both all open today.


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