Published on January 12th, 2018 | by voxx0
Out: 12 January
Length: 125 minutes
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James
Plot: In the early days of World War II, the fate of Europe rests on newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman), who must decide to negotiate or fight.
Winston Churchill isn’t just a historical figure at the top of Britain’s governmental power during war time, he’s also a man with character. This character, though sometimes tipped by his fundamental anger issues, is often cherishable and warm-hearted. In director Joe Wright’s latest, ‘Darkest Hour’ exposes his warmth to the nth degree, a heavy package that entirely offers hands up to his leading man, Gary Oldman. An actor who has impressed us for many decades with chameleonic methods through his performances, his emotive heft to carry a story, despite his work through the years, has astonishingly been rewarded with only a single Oscar nomination (earned after ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’). And if his performance here can’t change that, then perhaps nothing will, which unfortunately will be forever his shame because Churchill is a gift of a role and with Wright he truly gives the performance of his life.
Of course, from a first glance you simply have to credit the way he pulls off the infamous Churchill features. The sensational make-up work, courtesy of Kazuhiro Tsuji, smoothly complements him rather than smothers him. He gives his purest attention to the detail of every spot, every mole, even the circular spectacles, and the unique bowler hat coming complete with a cigar in hand. The effects on show here are something to cherish indeed, though that’s just his detail; for the rest you have to hand it to Wright, who succeeds as both a virtuoso filmmaker (images of raiding German bombers don’t go without a mention) and a natural designer, paying exquisite detail to the period setting, creating something that looks stunning thanks to Bruno Delbonnel’s brilliant cinematography.
Oldman also eloquently shows the frailty of Churchill – sweat on his brow from the stress of war, the speeches which he dictates to his secretary (James), keen advice from Ben Mendelsohn’s Kingly figure and, finally, the stress of putting up with one of his advisers (a stern Dillane, looking greyer than usual). His power in government is at a turbulent time and he sees that he’s not much liked among the people he shares his work with. Members of the public see him as a valuable figure for morals in moments of war, which is not only seen in Oldman’s evidence of dynamism and flexibility as an actor, but as a reliable force not to be reckoned with. Happily, it’s not just a one man show. Kristin Scott Thomas is brilliant as his wife Clementine Churchill. With her in the picture he knows he can go to her for a friendly hand of guidance when he’s at his most stressed, and most of the time he is. His temper can rise quite easily whenever he’s angry at any of his advisers. Of course, she gets excellent support too, by Mendelsohn’s King George VI, Dillane’s Viscount Halifax, and James’ secretary Elizabeth Layton. The script by Anthony McCarten (‘The Theory of Everything’) often struggles to integrate some of the female participants into male-dominated ‘40s Westminster, but Oldman offers just enough power to withstand through the lacking female narrative.
For his stature in polished filmmaking of a bygone era, Wright too gains praise as here he returns to the style where he’s strongest. Much like his previous venture into the past, ‘Atonement’, which was set around the same time: the climactic evacuation of Dunkirk (furthered in Nolan’s summer hit). In short, ‘Darkest Hour’ is a gripping British political drama filled with astonishing performances, and one which flawlessly brings history back to life. “V for Victory” at the Oscars? Quite Possibly.
VERDICT: Oldman brings Churchill to life with his fiercest performance ever in this gripping, and touching drama which visually transports you into the past.
- By Corey Denford