How 'Darkest Hour' Editor Re-created Churchill's Historic Wartime Speech

Darkest Hour Still Gary Oldman - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Jack English/Focus Features

The final scene in Joe Wright's World War II drama Darkest Hour features Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill delivering a rousing and pivotal speech in the House of Commons in an effort to rally Parliament to fight on rather than negotiate with Hitler. The words are familiar — in fact, they are also heard near the end of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk — but cutting the scene together was tricky, according to film editor Valerio Bonelli.

Wright had a sweeping crane shot that closed in on Oldman as he exhorted, "We shall fight on the beach, we shall fight on the landing grounds." But the editor explains that as he and Wright worked on the scene, "We went back and said, 'No, I think we need to stay on this close-up of Gary rather than having this glorious crane shot,' because what became clear to us is the scene wasn't just about the speech, it was about him rallying [Parliament] and getting everyone behind him."

To drive home that point, Bonelli thought it was also important to convey the reactions of the others in the room. "From a story point of view, it only played well if we were cutting from Gary's close-up to [people such as Viscount] Halifax and [Neville] Chamberlain reacting to these lines and the wide shot of the people cheering," he says.

"It was literally like building a crescendo of emotion with all the characters of the film," Bonelli adds. "You have lots of cameras, lots of angles, but actually the way to cut it was to go with everyone's emotion and to go with his emotion of trying to conquer everyone because that's what he needed at that time as a politician, to have the support of Parliament. And I think that's why the scene works, because you really have a sense by the end that this man has conquered the hearts of all those people in Parliament."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.