REVIEW: Gary Oldman Brings Back Churchill in “Darkest Hour”

This year’s award season has two major motion pictures centering around the evacuation of Dunkirk. While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk reveals the intense evacuation of the soldiers in France, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is centered around Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his struggle to defeat Hitler. Yet this historical drama is more than a just a biography of Churchill’s hand in WWII––it wonderfully depicts the true figure that Winston Churchill was. 

Photo Credit: Vox

Beginning in May 1940, the British Parliament called for the resignation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), who, in light of Britain’s involvement in the Allied Powers, seemed too weak to lead their country. While Chamberlain wanted Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) to succeed in his position, Halifax does not yet want it, leaving one man who people can agree on: Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). 

Churchill is quickly faced to decide if he will negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler, or to fight for Britain’s ideals. The film has a narrow framework, starting from Churchill taking office in May and ending with the evacuation of Dunkirk in June. However, there is nothing lacking from this Churchill biopic, as some of the most important events happened within these few weeks. With support from his loving wife, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and help from his secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), Churchill’s story seems to be the perfect foundation for a Hollywood film, and director Joe Wright takes full advantage of this. 

Photo Credit: Vox

This movie is truly in its best form because of Gary Oldman. As expected with much Oscar talk around the film, Oldman’s performance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill is a true embodiment, revealing his captivating character to his various quirks. Through giving some of his most well-known and important speeches, viewers also get to see Churchill’s particular schedule - baths and all. From each shot, the audience comprehends Churchill’s full thoughts, whether it is strength, doubt, or something else. Oldman is Winston Churchill, and the audience understands the great fascination Britain felt toward their Prime Minister during WWII. The performance is so pure and engaging to viewers that it is easy to forget that behind all of the extensive makeup and prosthetics lies Gary Oldman in his best work. 

While Gary Oldman is the heart of this film, Joe Wright proves his knowledge of how to direct a great picture. His characters are real and represent what they might have been. Additionally, writer Anthony McCarten creates a screenplay which extends beyond Churchill himself. In one fictitious scene, the Prime Minister visits the London Underground, asking the commoners what they believe should be done about Hitler and the war. Though completely written for the screen, the scene is striking among others, and it holds some truth. Ultimately, this part of the film reveals the strength of Britain’s people and their complete support of Churchill himself. While this is a biopic of Churchill, McCarten includes scenes that are a little more Hollywood fitting. Maybe these scenes seem too far-reaching, but they still account for Churchill’s values. 

Biopics often face the issue of finding the line between accuracy and an enjoyable Hollywood production. To my surprise, Darkest Hour takes on what it means to make a great film while also being mostly true. Former Prime Minister Winston Churchill has been portrayed in TV and film for years now - more recently in shows such as Netflix’s The Crown. However, for the first time, Churchill does not feel like a textbook figure that people read about. Oldman brings Churchill back to life, and what he represented in a time of uncertainty for Britain and its people. 

Cover Photo Credits: SlashFilm

 

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