It’s 1940 and the German war machine has recently invaded Poland, is advancing on Holland, Belgium and France and Hitler has his eyes set on conquering the rest of Europe. The nation has lost faith in the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and his successor is to be determined forming a coalition Government. Viscount Halifax, declines the position believing Winston Churchill to be more suited to the role. Not everyone agrees with this, but Churchill takes up the position and the rest, to most of us, is history.
It’s hard to have not seen or heard some of the hype surrounding Gary Oldman and his latest role as a Golden Globe win and a probable Oscar nomination for his, frankly, remarkable transformation into Britain’s most famous Prime Minister. The question is; does his most recent turn warrant all these plaudits? The answer is an unequivocal “yes”.
Oldman is virtually unrecognisable due to some extraordinary prosthetics and make-up. His posture, voice and mannerisms have been expertly executed with a skill that only an actor of Oldman’s calibre could achieve.
Focusing on Churchill’s disputes with Halifax and Chamberlain, the tension between the men is palpable as the latter two politicians favour peace negotiations whilst Churchill is weighing up all the available options. Holding their own against Oldman are Stephan Dillane as a stiff, stubborn Halifax, Ronald Pickup as the ailing Chamberlain and Ben Mendelsohn as a dubious King George VI. Kristin Scott Thomas is a little underused as Churchill’s long suffering, yet doting wife, Clemmie.
Director Joe Wright keeps most of the narrative indoors and makes excellent use of the claustrophobic War Rooms, mirroring Churchill’s feelings of entrapment as his own party close in on him as well as Herr Hitler’s Germany.
Rarely without his trademark cigar or a glass of something alcoholic in his hand, Darkest Hour shows a more human side to the Churchill we usually see portrayed on film, or television. Indeed, this one even laughs at bum gags. Amidst the bluster and occasional passionate outbursts of fury directed at his War Cabinet, there are moments of intimacy between Churchill and his secretary Elizabeth Layton, the charming Lily James, and between Churchill and King George, where their silence speaks volumes. These scenes of poignancy are much needed and offer a rare glimpse into Churchill’s insecurities.
The climax, culminating in Churchill’s most famous speech, is simply majestic and instils a feeling of patriotism and pride. Full marks to composer Dario Marianelli for his contribution in achieving this.
Darkest Hour is Gary Oldman’s finest hour. It’s a fascinating film with an extraordinary performance from its leading man. Worth watching for him alone, but there’s an awful lot more to this film than that.