UK Release: 12/01/2018
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane
How did Churchill change the tide of World War II?
Darkest Hour explores how the iconic politician became British Prime Minister during the country’s most desperate moment… and how his refusal to back down gave Britain exactly what it needed with a full-scale Nazi invasion looming.
It’s certainly a story we’ve all read about during school history lessons – Winston Churchill earned his place in history by leading Britain to victory in the face of overwhelming odds. It comes as a bit of a surprise then (at least, if you’ve managed to avoid the trailers) to find the iconic British bulldog played by none other than Gary Oldman.
And what a mesmerising performance it is.
Darkest Hour follows Winston Churchill (played by Gary Oldman) during the early days of his stint as Prime Minister… and it doesn’t exactly go smoothly. After Neville Chamberlain (played by Ronald Pickup) stepped down due to mounting pressure against his diplomatic stance, the Conservative party quickly decides Churchill is the man to replace him.
But as the man says it himself, it’s not exactly a blessing.
“I’m getting the job only because the ship is sinking,” he says. “It isn’t a gift – it’s revenge.”
Obviously, the big decision ahead of him is herculean – to negotiate with Adolf Hitler in an attempt to broker peace, or to lead the country into war as the rest of Europe struggles to push back the Nazi forces. And with his own party keen to discuss peace deals, it looks as though the British stalwart is fighting an uphill battle.
And while we all know how it panned out, it’s fascinating to see how he got there.
Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill is absolutely perfect, and it helps that he absolutely looks the part. It’s one of those roles where, unless you know the actor beforehand, you might have no idea who was actually playing him. The make-up department frankly deserves an Academy Award for transforming Gary Oldman into the iconic British leader. Complete with his renowned cigar-smoking, incredible voice and impeccable mannerisms, Oldman pulls off possibly the performance of his career. It’s really that good. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at least nominated for an Oscar for this role.
And he’s supported by quite a cast, too.
Ben Mendelsohn is brilliant as King George VI. He carries himself perfectly and with a feint hint of George VI’s speech impediment creeping through in more tense scenes, it’s a brilliant characterisation of another iconic figure.
Then there’s Churchill’s fellow politicians…
Ronald Pickup plays a very sympathetic version of Neville Chamberlain, but it’s a far more nuanced performance than that. He’s a man who understands what it’s like to have the weight of the world on his shoulders… and with underlying health issues creeping in, he’s desperate to secure peace for his country while he still can. Even after he’s ousted by his own party, he continues to strive for peace. And Viscount Halifax (played by Stephen Dillane) is there to keep him on track, though not exactly for the right reasons. Here, Dillane plays an excellent turn as a man with clear political ambitions, who doesn’t want to be the Prime Minister who is ultimately responsible for Britain during World War II. Instead, he’s biding his time, and it’s clear that he wants to swoop in once the terrible decisions have already been made.
Each and every supporting cast member plays their roles with gusto… and it’s a true joy to see so many British actors in smaller roles.
But where the acting shines, the plot is a little trickier.
Darkest Hour is very much about Churchill’s tough decision of whether or not to attempt a peace deal with the Nazis… and so the film essentially ends with Churchill making his big speech to parliament, announcing what he will do next.
But then… that’s it.
After hours of hearing the consequences of his actions, the untold number of lives that will be lost if we try to fight back, we don’t really see the consequences. There’s a brief scene around the middle of the film which nods at this – taking us off to a British garrison in Calais as the wolves are at the door. But the closest we get is witnessing a Nazi bombing run from above. Not exactly a powerful representation of what’s at stake.
On top of this, the plot does drag a little.
Darkest Hour isn’t supposed to be a war film – instead, it’s a biopic about the historic figure. But I can’t help thinking it could have played a little better if we had seen what happened as a result of Churchill’s decision. Ending the movie there robbed us of the opportunity to see the results of Operation Dynamo unfold on the big screen.
And perhaps we could have moved further into the war, too.
The big problem with Darkest Hour is that Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill was simply so good, we could have seen a lot more of it. I want to know how he led the War Cabinet in even darker times, and would have liked to have seen Oldman’s take on how the weight of a war would show on the man.
Still, Darkest Hour is an accomplished movie. It’s a rich character study of one of Britain’s most iconic figures, during one of the most important times in his political career. And it may well end up being an Oscar winner for Gary Oldman.
Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane.
Joe Wright directed the film, based on a script by Anthony McCarten.
Darkest Hour opened in cinemas on 12 January 2018.