Darkest Hour beings at the moment when Neville Chamberlain, Ronald Pickup (Prince Of Persia, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), is forced out and Winston Churchill, Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) is sworn in, and takes us up to Churchill’s famous beaches speech.
Whilst most of the party wanted Chamberlain replaced by Viscount Halifax, Stephen Dillane (Zero Dark Thirty, Game Of Thrones (TV)), in reality, the only leader the opposition would accept was Churchill.
Churchill was unpopular within his own party and with King George VI, Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, Una), as he had ‘an appalling record’. However, sworn in he is and so begins his epic, uphill battle to save the thousands of stranded men from Dunkirk, stop the invading German army and win over his own cabinet, the King, the people and the opposition.
When I first saw trailers for the Darkest Hour I couldn’t picture who was actually playing Churchill. It’s not just the prosthetics, something Oldman spent over 200 hours in makeup for, it’s the mannerisms and speech that had completely thrown me.
Oldman is nothing short of miraculous in Darkest Hour, the way he mumbles, rages, stares, sits and walks are a complete transformation. He encompasses this role in ways I can’t remember him having done before. Whilst there’s never been any doubt of Oldman’s class as an actor, I believe this to be a step up even for him.
Whilst you could be mesmerised by Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill for a while, it is Joe Wright’s (Hanna, Anna Karenina) direction which is also eye-catching. Wright has given us something truly spectacular; from the backstabbing, shouting and jeering moments to scenes of quiet reflection and solitude. It’s all so easy and smooth flowing and takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions.
The script, by Anthony McCarten (The Theory Of Everything, Death Of A Superhero), doesn’t shy away from playing with a few truths, the subway scene – whilst fantastic – is pure Hollywood, but is otherwise rousing, full of stiff-upper-lip passion and surprisingly very funny at times.
Kristin Scott Thomas (My Old Lady, The English Patient) plays Churchill’s wife. A woman who has sacrificed much to allow him to have all he’s ever wanted, she plays the, sometimes forgotten, wife with aplomb.
The film also follows Churchill’s secretary, again playing with a few truths – time in this instance, Elizabeth Layton, Lily James (Baby Driver, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies). Her first meeting with Churchill is hilarious, she shy and unsure of herself, he confident and brash.
Whilst McCarten and Wright do show us some glimpses of the war raging elsewhere, things are mostly confined to Number 10, parliament and the war rooms. The latter now a museum whilst the rest have been wonderfully recreated to give a fantastic look and feel to the whole thing.
Darkest Hour is a masterful directing performance from Wright with wonderful performances all-round. But make no mistake, this is Gary Oldman’s finest hour (or two in actuality) for a while. It’s a stunning performance from a man who already has a string of stunning performances to his credit, he has to be at the top of the list of the Oscars