Darkest Hour - This Churchill Movie Rocks (Oh Yes!)
Dir; Joe Wright
Starring Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Smauel West, Ronald Pickup
This is director Joe Wright’s second Second World War II movie. But, unlike Atonement, this is not a film about ultimate emotional devastation. It’s more the opposite, it embraces emotional resilience and perseverance. Yet both are period pieces that strive to deliver their story with a sense of modernity. Here it’s in Wright’s visual style and even his on-screen fonts as the momentous dates tick by.
But in the central performance of Gary Oldman, he has a thing that is both gloriously old-fashioned and, as it emerges, one for the ages. It would be so easy to label what Oldman does here as Oscar bait (and why doesn’t the great man have one already?) It would be equally easy to label is as a histrionic turn, replete with prosthetics and fat suits a-go go. But at the heart of this film, Oldman finds the heart of his subject. For all the familiar ticks and proselytising of his subject Winston Churchill, as Oldman progresses through this ultimately impressive movie, he finds the man behind the cigar and whisky for breakfast. The leader behind the speeches. And it’s found in his eyes, poking out through the make up. It’s an old-fashioned turn, as they say, in light of contemporary cinema and performance. But damn, it’s a fine one.
In its simplest form, Darkest Hour is the other side of the coin that is Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk, in that it shows the machinations of what was gong on back home, whilst Nolan’s admittedly stronger film lets the field play out. Here we see the political wranglings of Churchill’s rise to PM, amid arguments and feeling against him. He becomes a Prime Minister of propaganda as much as anything else (ironically echoing the work of his adversaries Hitler and Mussolini) and through the course of Wright’s well balanced film, we see how this comes to move from mere speech to deeply held belief, something that Oldman purely resonates and grows with.
Which brings us to Oldman in particular – a man clearly with an Oscar nom in his immediate future. To say this is obvious is not to belittle the work here. Whilst he chews cigars and scenery both, Oldman moves so far beyond that in his portrayal that anything that comes his way from here on in is totally deserved. It may well end up being the “biggest” of the nominated performances come January – but that should not take away from it. It is nuanced and emotive and succinctly well played. Just watch his interactions with Lily James to see the depth of the work the man is doing here – and also watch Lily James, who takes on an unworthy of her supporting role, but finds her moments to still shine. As does Kristen Scott Thomas – but then again, try and name the last film she wasn’t simply great in. (Answer – you can’t. She wasn’t. Ever.)
Darkest Hour sees Joe Wright seriously back in control of his art after the lamentable Pan – and as such getting some tremendous performances out of some tremendous actors. The biggest surprise probably being Ben Mendelsohn who simply excels as King George VI – and we didn’t see that one coming.
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