Darkest Hour is directed by Joe Wright, and stars Gary Oldman.
In 1940, early in World War II, the United Kingdom has lost confidence in its prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, prompting the government to search for a replacement. Despite his mixed reputation, Winston Churchill is given the position, due to his having the respect of multiple political parties. Upon entering the position, Churchill finds himself fighting an uphill battle, with pressures from his staff to enter into peace talks to prevent further bloodshed, despite Hitler’s merciless onslaught of Europe, and in finding a solution to troops being stranded during a German offensive. Facing opposition within his own nation amidst the brewing of one of the world’s largest conflicts ever, Churchill finds himself fighting an uphill battle in his effort to restore the confidence of the people in trying times.
Biopics and war films are nothing new; that much is certain. Despite this, Darkest Hour stands as a surprisingly strong film, with a fantastic performance by an almost unrecognizable Gary Oldman. A strong supporting cast, period atmosphere, and visual environment make it one of the best films of its kind in recent years, even if the information in the film is not exactly going to surprise anyone educated on Churchill’s life.
While there is a strong cast in this film, even if many of the actors and actresses are not immediately recognizable names, it is Gary Oldman who steals the show here. With his accent and elaborate makeup and costuming, Mr. Oldman is barely recognizable, effectively becoming Churchill, and remaining convincing throughout the entire movie. From moments of outrage to vulnerability alike, and in his interactions with all variety of characters, including supporters and detractors alike, Oldman wins over the audience in every single scene he is in. The film is strengthened further by the fact that Churchill is not glorified and loved by all; this is a man who has many detractors, even within his own government. Oldman has given many memorable performances over the years, but this is one of the strongest.
The look of the film is equally impressive in its recreation of the 1940s United Kingdom. In a film like this, even the best performances are nothing without a suitable period atmosphere. Fortunately, Darkest Hour does not falter in this department either. The looks and sounds of the film are as convincing as Oldman’s performance. It’s that rare film where everything comes together just right.
Admittedly, there are a few too many plot threads; this is largely unavoidable in a dramatic film based on actual events, and the movie does not go beyond the early years of Churchill in the Prime Minister position (it ends long before America's involvement in the war begins, for example). More development in a few of these threads would have been appreciated. It would have been interesting to go beyond this era, and see Oldman’s take on Churchill later in the war, though overall, the decision to stick primarily with one era works in the film’s favor. It would be impressive to see Oldman film a sequel of sorts, portraying Churchill later in the war, but one can only dream!
Darkest Hour is not exactly going to be a revelation for anyone familiar with the life of Winston Churchill, but it is the atmospherics and powerful, Oscar-worthy performance from Gary Oldman that makes the movie. With many memorable scenes and powerful moments, the strengths far outweigh any minor flaws the film may have, and it comes strongly recommended.
Rating: Three-and-a-half out of four stars.