Darkest Hour review: Gary Oldman at his finest as Winston Churchill in WWII drama
Some actors get better with age. Some actors are born to play historical leaders. Some actors are able to lift a cinematic experience beyond a passable drama. That actor is Gary Oldman. Oldman plays Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour.
We first see Churchill at the time of Neville Chamberlain’s (Ronald Pickup) ouster as British Prime Minister as his approach to the war wasn’t working. The Darkest Hour chronicles the early days Winston Churchill’s reign as Prime Minister.
The year is 1940. Britain is facing its biggest ever crisis. German dictator Adolf Hitler has invaded Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway and Poland. Hitler is ever-encroaching upon France and Belgium with Britain on the horizon.
Churchill is thrust into finding a winning strategy for the war while navigating an exit strategy at Dunkirk where 300,000 British troops are stuck. Churchill faces opposition from most of his war cabinet who urge the Prime Minister to negotiate a peace treaty with the Nazis – Mussolini being the mediator – and they expect favourable terms for the British.
Darkest Hour can easily be played side-by-side with Christopher Nolan’s war-time epic Dunkirk. It’s the perfect companion piece. Nolan’s Dunkirk shows us up close and personal what it is like to retreat. Darkest Hour takes the political route as to just how Operation Dynamo was created and executed, and the struggles that were faced getting to that point.
Another movie that I was reminded of while watching Darkest Hour was Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Both are procedural’s story of great political leader and act as ‘how to guides’ on how to make for a great leadership.
While watching Darkest Hour, one really feels like Winston Churchill has come alive. Oldman nails everything from the blabbering speech patterns, to the wit and charm, and even the love and affection he gives his wife. All along while drinking and smoking his cigars.
The screenplay was written by Anthony McCarten. McCarten does a splendid job of epitomising the whole of Churchill, rather than trying to cover everything from head to toe about the man.
Couple that with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s war rooms and dingy corridors and Dario Marianelli’s pristine score and you get what passes off as a mighty enjoyable film.
Should you watch it?
In the end, this becomes more a crowd-pleasing piece of cinema rather than be elevated to something more memorable. Oldman delivers a performance that is power packed verging on overpowering. The performance sweeps aside all the supporting cast, starting with Churchill’s wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) and typist Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), who, if given a few more minutes of important screen time, delivered a performance worthy for the years.
The film, at times, feels like it is just one speech after another, but thanks to Wright’s camera work, this becomes an engaging piece of British politics. If you liked Dunkirk, you’ll like Darkest Hour, as a piece that tells the other side of the story.
Don’t hold out for something grandiose, or even something nuanced. That’s not at all Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman has bagged a Golden Globe already for this performance, and that alone should get you going to the cinema for this one, despite the certain flaws in the script, and the one-sided historical storytelling.