12-25th January, 2018
In this impeccably acted and historically authentic war biopic from acclaimed British director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice), audiences are unwittingly catapulted into May 1940 during Churchill’s uncertain first few weeks as prime minister. The film, aptly named Darkest Hour, concentrates exclusively on the Dunkirk rescue mission or Operation Dynamo as it was known. For viewers interested in history, this film is a World War Two fanatic’s dream. From Churchill’s universally-recognised underground bunker, to tense transatlantic conversations with President Roosevelt, Darkest Hour elevates an enthralling piece of twentieth-century history into populist entertainment.
The film’s main accomplishment, however, is Gary Oldman’s remarkable personation of Churchill’s distinguished demeanour and personality. Churchill lived a life that was long and ‘not… entirely uneventful,’ as he once put it, and so it’s fitting he should be the subject of over fifty film and television productions. Oldman, behind an unrecognisable coating of makeup and prosthetics, delivers a resounding performance as the celebrated war prime minister.
Oldman’s golden-globe winning performance is unapologetically forceful, inundating audiences with vigorous yet stirring scenes of oration. Whilst Oldman is both visually and vocally threatening, (and it quickly becomes clear why Churchill earned the nickname: ‘The Bulldog’), he skilfully wins over viewers with his brief moments of humour and compassion. This is particularly prevalent in scenes with his indulgent yet sensible wife, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. The women in the film, often overlooked in Churchill biopics, subtly redress their understated role in World War Two history.
Darkest Hour gives us a Churchill who is unyielding in his convictions, refusing to succumb to the pleas of his disagreeable, anti-war cabinet. The resolute Churchill appears unreasonable, if not irresponsible, in his unwavering campaign for war against the convincing arguments for peace. Wright skilfully constructs a profoundly impartial narrative, neither glorifying nor critiquing Churchill’s controversial decisions; audiences are given sufficient information to form their own opinion.
Churchill’s firm crusade against both his cabinet and Nazism is encapsulated in the climatic, universally-celebrated ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech. Oldman delivers a stirring and pivotal performance, capturing the fortitude of a politician refusing to ‘reason with a tiger’, as he had earlier put it, in the face of defeat. The speech prompts his disapproving cabinet to finally grant their approval and stand behind the unpopular, yet admired, Churchill.
Darkest Hour provides a compelling window into twentieth-century history, captivating viewers with its formidable portrait of one of Britain’s most beloved leaders. Even if you have zero interest in its subject matter, the film promises to maintain your interest for its full 125 minutes. This is owed to both Oldman’s innovative performance and, equally, Wright’s persuasive directorship. Hence, it is no surprise that Darkest Hour has dominated awards season, nominated for nine BAFTA’s and one Golden Globe. Oldman has famously never won an Oscar, losing to Jean Dujardin in The Artist in 2012, so Darkest Hour may very well be, and deservedly so, his first Oscar-winning performance.