Darkest Hour 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

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The story that inspired a nation to ‘Never Surrender!'

by Simon Crust Jun 6, 2018 at 11:22 AM

  • SRP: £19.99

    Darkest Hour Film Review

    Nations which go down fighting rise again, and those that surrender tamely are finished

    Some regard Winston Churchill as one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, or even one of the greatest Britons. Sadly neither are quite true, but his life does have a compelling story to tell, not least of which is his first few days in power as PM during the early stages of WWII. Written as a character study by Anthony McCarten and director by Joe Wright, the film will best be remembered for a powerhouse Academy Award winning performance by Gary Oldman as he brings to life the man who brought us through the War. Of course there is dramatic licence and it is romanticised, but that should not take away from what is an earnest and powerful retelling of the how Churchill came to power, the political struggles, his own reservations, those of his family and finances and his command of the English language that enabled him to lead.
    Told partly through the eyes of his secretary we get to see and admire a man in a near impossible position having to make impossible decisions and all resting firmly on the shoulders of Gary Oldman, who rightly deserves the recognition and adulation heaped upon him. Curiously the film works as a terrific companion piece to Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk, released in the same year, for as that film deals with the men on the ground during Operation Dynamo, Darkest Hour researches the political struggle and helplessness of the government as they wrestle with their consciences about the lives that they hold in their hands. If you can forgive the historic inaccuracies and the staunch ‘one man stands alone’ narrative, you are left with an emotional, engaging story that inspired a nation to ‘Never Surrender!’

    Darkest Hour 4K Picture

    Darkest Hour Darkest Hour 4K Picture
    Darkest Hour was shot digitally using a combination of Arri Alexa Mini and Arri Alexa SXT Plus cameras with resolutions at 2.8K and finished as a 4K DI, which has presumably been used here for this Ultra HD Blu-ray release. The disc presents a native 4K 3840 x 2160p resolution image in the widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and uses 10-bit video depth, a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG), High Dynamic Range, and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec HDR10. We reviewed the Region free UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Darkest Hour on a Panasonic 65DX902B Ultra HD 4K TV with a Panasonic DMP-UB400 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

    What a wonderful picture!

    The detail on show is immense, right down to the finest line; there is simply too much to list, but a few of my favourites would be the top of the table in the House of Commons, you can almost read the papers and book spines, the crystal glasses that Churchill and King George drink from at their lunch; so sharp and precise you feel you can reach in and grab them. The detail of the maps in the Map Room, how defiant the pins are against the fading paper; the dirt and grime of the London Streets; the wooden slats of the underground rail carriage - quite simply the level of detail is astonishing.

    When you add to this the benefit of HDR and WCG you have an image that is spectacular. The colour palette is somewhat desaturated, pushing more earthy hues at the expense of reds and blues, this gives a very stylised view; what colour there is remains expertly seen, and so natural. Flesh tones are ‘English rose’, i.e. quite pale, but are very fitting for the piece, while darker tones are sweeping and contain far more vibrancy than the Blu-ray ever could. Check out the vividness of the red when Churchill delivers his first radio broadcast. But it is with the black level where this image really ‘shines’. Delivering perhaps the best level I have seen in years, it is so deep and depth inducing as to pull you into the screen. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography makes full use of HDR with light and shade to create a perfect image; any scene benefits; when Churchill first meets King George, the War room, in the House of Commons – all have beams of sunlight cutting through the gloom to amazing effect. For me, one of the best uses is our first glimpse of Churchill, in his room, in total darkness and he strikes a match to light his cigar – simply stunning. His lift journeys also showcase spectacular black. The white level is just as good, never clipping and giving such a range as to appear perfectly natural.

    The source is pristine, digitally there are no issues; this is one stunning picture.

    Darkest Hour 4K Sound

    Darkest Hour Darkest Hour 4K Sound
    The English Dolby Atmos track is a somewhat subtle affair that plays on naturalism and authenticity to the surround field than anything bombastic. So, effects such as reverb and chatter in the House of Commons debates, Big Ben chiming overhead, sitting inside the tube train as it rattles along - come across as very natural and ‘ordinary’ so much so that you become a part of the scene. I liked the delivery of the telegram to Churchill’s address, the way the motorcycle engine almost, but not quite, drowned out the dialogue, as it would. Other than that scene, dialogue was clear and precise, given directionality when needed but always sounded perfectly natural. Bass effects were limited, as one might expect in a dialogue driven film, but when the sub was given something to do (score stings, bombing raids etc.) it was tight, refined and strong. The score itself was layered quite low in the mix, so that it had room to build when needed. The track was also not afraid to be silent; when Churchill and Clemmie were discussing her brother for example. On the whole this was not a dynamic affair, but the track perfectly suits the film and delivers the information well.

    Darkest Hour 4K Extras

    Darkest Hour Darkest Hour 4K Extras
    Audio Commentary
    – With director Joe Wright, whose laid back chat track covers most everything you’d need to know about production, historic facts, performances, locations etc.

    Audio Commentary – As above.
    Into Darkest Hour – Paltry 8 minute feature that looks at the characters, costumes, locations, history and the strive for authenticity.
    Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill – Even less at 4 minutes, this feature examines how the actor took on and grew into the part.

    Darkest Hour 4K Verdict

    Darkest Hour Darkest Hour 4K Verdict
    Darkest Hour is a dramatic retelling of Winston Churchill’s first few days in power during the beginning of WWII and the desperate attempt to save the British army trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, all the while staving off political attempts against him for a negotiated peace. Historical inaccuracies aside, this is a wonderful character study of how the War Cabinet decided on the lives of thousands of men in the weight of the advancing German army and works as a wonderful companion piece to Nolan’s Dunkirk.

    Astonishingly good picture

    As a 4K UHD Blu-ray, the set from Universal has an astonishingly good picture, the native 4K image is awash with detail and a black level to die for, giving rise to one of the best on the format, while the English Dolby Atmos track, though subtle, nevertheless impresses with its authenticity. The extras are very light, however.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99

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