Thursday, October 19, 2017



Directed by Joe Wright. Written by Anthony McCarten. Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel. Starring Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James and Kristin Scott-Thomas. Universal Pictures. BAE System Theatre. Australian War Memorial.  October 16th to October 22nd.. 2017. Bookings:

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

At the opening of this year’s Veteran’s Film Festival, National Special Projects Manager for the RSL, Stephen Henderson told the assembled guests, “The aim of the festival is to shine a light through the cracks. Through film we develop an empathy for the human race.” Films from various countries assist veterans to share the universal experiences of those who serve their countries in time of war. Vice Admiral Richard Briggs, commented on the unique stories of forty three Australian veterans, who proudly participated in the recent Invictus Games. Through the film festival audiences are able to appreciate the complexity of the servicepersons’ experiences and the different perspectives that can be driven into society.

Over five days, the Veterans Film Festival under director, Tom Papas, will illuminate the lives and experiences of those serving their country as far afield as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Europe and depict events from the bloody conflict of Passchendaele to present day conflicts. Themes will explore the effect of war on the individual and the family, the invidious use of IEDs, gender issues, PTSD and the cruel consequence of the use of chemical warfare.

The films are selected from film makers throughout the world. This year’s festival includes films from Australia, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Iran with real or imagined stories designed to promote a greater understanding about veterans’ families, first responders and the impact of war on a society.

 The VFF invites feature films and short films covering fiction, non-fiction, animation, documentaries, archival, TV Series and virtual reality.

The festival will conclude on Sunday, October 22nd with the presentation of the Red Poppy Awards. Successful film makers will receive hand blown glass trophies in the categories of Best Feature Film, Best Australian Short Film and Best International Short Film.

This significant annual event encourages talent and the contribution made by serving and ex-serving veterans. As I listen to Stephen Henderson’s account of his conversation with Holocaust survivor, Olga Horek, I am made aware that the 30 year old to whom he related this story had no knowledge of the holocaust. At university, my history lecturer, who was a prisoner in Belsen, would address the entire university to stress that we must never forget. Henderson’s example underlines this important message, and the Veterans Film Festival occupies a vital role in informing the community, not only of the experiences of today’s veterans, but also those who have served their country in past conflicts.

Gary Oldman is Winston Churchill in Universal Pictures Darkest Hour

This year’s festival has been launched with a screening of Universal Pictures’ Darkest Hour. The film, directed by Joe Wright with cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, tells of the circumstances that launched Winston Churchill into the Prime Ministership in May 1940. It then traces his wartime leadership until the D Day Invasion that saw the rescue of 300, 000 Allied troops, besieged by Hitler’s advancing forces. Darkest Hour is the third film to be released that examines the Second World War and the role of British prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in resisting the advances of Hitler’s army.
However, Darkest War provides a different perspective. Whereas Dunkirk and Churchill primarily focus on this major offensive, Darkest Hour provides an intriguing and revealing insight into the political forces that influenced the decisions made by the nation’s lawmakers, and in particular the conflicts that Churchill faced within his own War Cabinet. We are presented with the motives of the peace negotiators, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) and the ailing former Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup).  McCarten’s screenplay depicts the difficult position of King George Vl (Ben Mendelsohn) and the rational support of the loyal and long suffering Lady Churchill (Kristin Scott Thomas) The attitudes of the ordinary Briton are carefully presented in the character of Churchill’s secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and the passengers of a District Line Underground train to Westminster. Fact and fiction merge in an air of authenticity. Towering above it all is Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill, Britain’s wartime bulldog, snapping at the heels of all opposition, resolute in purpose, resistant to any talk of negotiation and yet privately consumed by self-doubt and human frailty. In an outstanding cast, Oldman’s performance is Herculean.

Dario Marianelli’s score is spellbinding, riveting in its intensity, a constant musical companion to moments of high tension and explosive urgency. It surges and subsides, sweeping us along with Bruno Delbbonnel’s atmospheric cinematography.

Instead of scenes depicting soldiers confronting the horrors of war, Darkest Hour reveals the struggles that are waged and the decisions that are made behind closed doors in Parliament, in the War Cabinet rooms, in Buckingham Palace, in Churchill’s house or in the toilet. The men and women who go to war are messengers of the will of their leaders.   As I sat in the dark, gripped by the sheer power of Universal Pictures’ Darkest Hour I thought of Shakespeare’s immortal line from Richard II, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Or in the darkest days of World War II, a homberg and a long cigar.

This was my first visit to the annual Veteran’s Film Festival. It is apparent that it is one of the most important film events of the year, not only for the fine films it presents or the Red Poppy Awards that it bestows, but for the awareness it raises and the humanity it reveals. It is society’s salute to its veterans.