V for Victory: Cinematography and Darkest Hour
- Release: 2018, Joe Wright (Dir). Focus Features
- Cameras: ARRI Alexa Mini, ARRI Alexa SXT Plus.
- Lenses: Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses
- Cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel
In our continuing blog series regarding the 90th Academy Award’s and the digital filmmaking systems used. Today we’re addressing the nation with Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. Dramatizing the early premiership of Winston Churchill at crucial junction of summer 1940. Facing imminent invasion by Nazi Germany, a disputed, fragile coalition with political enemies seeking his downfall, Darkest Hour tackles the tumultuous events which led the most unlikely outsider to become the man who galvanized a nation.
The Rundown: Darkest Hour nominations and wins at the 90th Academy Awards
- Best Picture – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten & Douglas Urbanski: Nominated
- Best Production Design – Sarah Greenwood & Katie Spencer: Nominated
- Best Cinematography – Bruno Delbonnel: Nominated
- Best Costume Design – Jacqueline Durran: Nominated
- Best Actor – Gary Oldman: Nominated & Won
- Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick: Nominated & Won
There is always a difficulty in capturing the image of the past and bringing it into the present. Whilst heavily photographed and documented, it is the challenge of any period drama to capture the visual essence of a moment and create drama. Being well acquainted with the British period drama (often referred to as ‘Prestige’ films) such as Pride & Prejudice (2005), the romantic war drama Atonement (2007) and his adaptation of Anna Karenina (2012) Joe Wright, much like Churchill, was the veteran campaigner and equal to the challenge before him.
Wright is often credited with having a passive and naturalistic eye, taking slow and measured wide shots to absorb the lavish texture of his production details, costume and performance of his actors. With a roaring bulldog performance in the guise of Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill, there is a clear challenge to capture the feel of the period for the characters to inhabit. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel speaks regarding how this was achieved utilizing the ARRI Alexa systems and what helped him to make his selection.
“At the very beginning, we wanted to shoot with an Alexa 65 with medium format lenses, but you need so much light just to get enough depth of field that I convinced Joe that we should go with the regular Alexa, with Cooke lenses. Because then, I could work with not such a big amount of light. I like a very big depth of field, and I think the depth of field was interesting. To get enough depth of field, I couldn’t shoot with the 65.”
– Bruno Delbonnel
Taking the option of a Cooke Lens-fitted with a mainstay Alexa system marks as an interesting choice which clearly paid off. Darting through the compact and bustling corridors of Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms (open to the public and unchanged since 1945, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum) makes the ARRI Alexa a fitting choice alongside a Cooke lens. Granting a wider depth of field to enhance the tone certainly seems to have helped Darkest Hour’s use of production value and makeup, as rewarded by their Oscar gongs. Colourist and editor Peter Doyle speak further regarding Delbonnel’a system choice.
“From conceptual drawings and production design and working with Bruno on the kind of cameras that [he’d] like to use, and lenses and so forth, and really wrapping an image processing pipeline around that.”
“The general feeling was that it was to be a very sharp film,” recalls Doyle of the earliest discussions. “Not diffused. It shouldn’t be a period film in terms of looking ‘desaturated’ or ‘sepia.’” –
– Peter Doyle
Much like Churchill himself, the Darkest Hour found itself amongst stiff competition at this years Academy Awards. Whilst purely unintentional, the calmer and textured Darkest Hour makes an interesting companion with Christopher Nolan’s gritty and intense Dunkirk. Surely there will be many a double bill featured in years to come. One thing is sure though, cometh the hour, cometh the man.