To date, Gary Oldman has portrayed Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Dracula, so it only makes sense for him to add one of the 20th centuries most beloved and famous people to his resume. In “Darkest Hour”, Oldman completely disappears into Winston Churchill with a performance so engrossing and captivating that an upcoming Best Actor Oscar nomination is virtually assured.
There have been countless portrayals of Churchill on film, but none have done such a deep dive into his first few weeks serving as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister as director Joe Wright has. Wright deftly keeps an overly talky script from Anthony McCarten moving along and the lulls are kept to a minimum, mostly due to a phenomenal score by Dario Marianelli and Oldman’s dominance.
The movie begins on May 10th, 1940, which is the day Churchill was appointed to Prime Minister by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) after the forced resignation of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup). After warning of the dangers of Hitler’s rise in Germany, Churchill creates a new war cabinet and goes to work in attempting the daunting task of protecting the UK from the Nazi Germany march across western Europe.
As the movie moves forward, it focuses on Churchill’s Greatest Hits with massive on-screen font that displays important dates in history. Naturally, the centerpiece of “Darkest Hour” is Churchill’s “finest hour” address to the country and Wright turns what is nothing more than a man sitting in front of microphone into a breathtaking moment.
The entire speech is shown in “Darkest Hour” and it will be one of the finest sequences of 2017. It is a perfect combination of every aspect of filmmaking. The lighting, editing, sound, music, and Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography turn an unbelievably intense performance from Oldman into an inspirational moment that should make audience members ready to run through a brick wall to defend England.
While “Darkest Hour” has moments when the normally stern Churchill is loaded with self-doubt, if there’s a flaw, it’s the lack of development in Churchill’s personal life other than when he mopes and needs a pat on the back. He seems to get most of his motivation from his wife, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), and his assistant, Elizabeth (Lily James), but these roles are very one-dimensional and even a touching moment regarding Elizabeth’s brother is fairly glossed over.
Instead, “Darkest Hour” focuses on the politically charged climate and Churchill’s immeasurable stress levels. This allows Gary Oldman, visually transformed via fantastic makeup, to disappear into the role and it’s easy to forget who is behind those tiny, circular glasses. Oldman has always been a character actor and “Darkest Hour” allows him to stay in his comfort zone while getting the showiest role of his career. As of now, Oldman is the frontrunner for the Best Actor Academy Award and it will take an exceptional performance to get what would be his first Oscar out of his hands.
With “Dunkirk” and now “Darkest Hour”, it’s been a fantastic year for World War II movies. They are extremely different films with the former having barely any dialogue and the latter loaded with it. It would make for an excellent double feature that highlights what was happening on each side of the English Channel during an exceptional time in human history.
Due to the expanded field, “Darkest Hour” will surely be considered for Best Picture. It does have the appearance of a movie that could be trying too hard or crafted solely with Oscar gold in mind, but Gary Oldman’s career-best achievement is impossible to ignore.