There has been no shortage of films and TV shows about Winston Churchill. Barely a year goes by without seeing another great actor take on the role, Brian Cox, John Lithgow had their crack recently, and now Gary Oldman gets his turn in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour.
Focusing on a month-long period during Churchill’s beginnings as Prime Minister with Hitler’s war machine rolling over Europe. An unfavourable job at the best of times, Churchill was given the position begrudgingly, but it was his stoic resolve that helped inspire a nation to keep buggering on for five long years.
Joe Wright’s film contains little in the way of revelations or surprises, Churchill’s life has been very well documented on both the big and small screen. But we are not watching this film to be surprised, this is Gary Oldman’s film, and he absolutely owns the role. Like most films centred around historical figures, there are some creative licenses taken, and a rousing scene involving Churchill riding the underground and speaking to the people about the war is a powerful embodiment of the British spirit. But sadly, it never happened. That small fact is mostly unimportant as this is a symbolic scene, and it’s one that hits an emotional bullseye. Moments later Churchill is ready to give his iconic “We shall go on to the end” speech to Parliment, a speech that solidified the British resolve. Oldman delivers the famous speech with the conviction that makes even the most hardened of cinemagoer feel patriotic.
However, for all the fine acting from the supporting cast and some authentic production design, Darkest Hour is a film made for the award season, and it shows. I don’t say that as an insult, but we are all overly familiar with the type of movies that studios make in a shameless bid to win awards. Period setting, check, real-life historical figure, check, acclaimed actor yet to win an Oscar, check, the list goes on and the only thing missing from its award-friendly Bingo card is an appearance from Meryl Streep. On a side note, a hearty congratulations to Meryl Streep for her 21st Oscar Nomination for The Post. Gary Oldman is long overdue an Academy Award, and shockingly, his turn as Churchill is only his second nomination.
Awards aside, Darkest Hour is an elegantly made film and home to another masterful performance from Oldman. A final thought, when this comes out on DVD, try watching Darkest Hour until Operation Dynamo is launched, pause it, slap on Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, then finish Darkest Hour.