Image: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. © Photograph by Jack English. [Source: IMDB]
Gary Oldman’s showy yet honest and at times forceful depiction of Winston Churchill, pilots the events of early 1940s Britain and Churchill’s start as Prime Minister. Winston Churchill is a figure who remains ever-present in the public’s “Greatest Britons” analogues and over the past year or so, we have seen his image put on the five-pound note. There is certainly a romanticized view of the Great Briton and so too does Darkest Hour add a touch of gloss and shine to the esteemed former Prime Minister, occasionally to nauseating results.
Director: Joe Wright. Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane. [PG]
Darkest Hour also marks the second major film release in the last year to use the Dunkirk evacuation as a romantic showcase of British pride and values, the first being Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk but while Dunkirk displayed the touching will of spirit in the troops, Darkest Hour takes us to the war rooms and political backdrop of those events. What director Joe Wright does with excellence is keeping the narrative entertaining but also unapologetic about its heavy dialogue scenes. Wright manages to burst vibrancy and urgency into 1940s Britain following proceedings that could have easily fallen into clichéd dull and lifeless political chatter, instead much of the cinematography is inspired, energetic and fresh which mirrors Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill, gone is the presumed brooding grump and here is by all accounts an honest portrayal of Churchill in his spirited and humorous self.
Further in the realm of honesty and attention to detail is the costuming, casting and portrayals by most if not all of the cast members. There is a real sense of fact and respect of it throughout, the mise en scene is engrossing in its capturing of the time and these people, the project is layered with accuracy. However, at times the film’s romanticised agenda gets in the way of its drama, one scene that stands out contains Churchill boarding the underground alone to produce a consensus from the people. While it has a flair of touching spirit to it, it plays off as a loathsome interjection of current world politics affecting its portrayal of true events and stops the drama in its tracks and anchors down the final act of the film.
There are also missteps with its narrative tone, much of the film eludes any analytical look into Churchill and his decisions and instead it acts as a British Second World War 101 class (Not necessarily bad if you no very little about Churchill), brushing over events lightly and playing off opposing opinions to Churchill as cowardly when the film should have been taking part in more of a discussion, instead it plays heavily into its agenda. Despite this Gary Oldman is lost once again in his performance and looks almost unrecognisable although there is still a touch of Oldman there. I was not particularly wowed by Oldman’s shapeshifting into Churchill, but there is little doubt that it takes tremendous talent and effort to even give a good performance behind prosthetic and Oldman goes above box standard portrayal and is thoroughly gripping throughout the movie, never distracting. He certainly is Darkest Hour’s finest moment.