During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.
Darkest Hour focuses on one of the most important political figures of WWII, and digs deep into his personal life and motivations. Churchill is not only an interesting figure to dig into, but he’s portrayed unbelievably by Gary Oldman. It was hard for me to imagine Oldman as Churchill when this film was first announced, but that was before the extreme use of makeup for such a transformation became a mainstream technique in cinema. Not only does the makeup transform him to look just like Churchill, but he delivers the complexity and confidence of the man extremely well and if he won the Oscar, it would be very well deserved. From the marketing, this seemed like the kind of film that relied on its leading performance to elevate the film from good to great, and this has worked well in films like Jake Gyllenhaal’s incredible Nightcrawler and his most recent film Stronger, but other films like this have struggled when their lead isn’t onscreen. I will admit that Darkest Hour does slow down in scenes when Oldman isn’t present, but whenever he is, it’s a riveting show to watch. He delivers anger, passion, and even charisma in his role of Churchill that will glue your eyes to the screen in the film’s most intense scenes. Also great are Baby Driver‘s Lily James as Churchill’s secretary and Rogue One‘s Ben Mendelsohn as King George IV, but Oldman definitely steals the show in his performance that’s nothing quite like anything he’s ever done before. Joe Wright’s direction is also magnificent, with the historical focus of courage and not giving in, just like British forces did during these times of struggle against Germany, working very well with this topic. We feel that Churchill demonstrated bravery when others, such as his predecessor Neville Chamberlain, didn’t, and Oldman brings this larger-than-life character to screen better than we could have asked. The cinematography is also beautiful, with symmetry and long takes being used very well, and the uses of sets and costumes are very fitting. The writing is well-balanced with inspiration, humor, and even some human moments that will entertain, like a great scene that takes place on a train. It’s the perfect companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s most recent masterwork Dunkirk, as it depicts the political side of the struggle to evacuate the British soldiers off the coast of France, and though the films are of different genre and appeal, both are very good at delivering their historical topics. Darkest Hour does slow down here and there, but its themes that are applied from British history are relevant to modern politics, that we must be brave and never give in to the more intimidating force. Gary Oldman’s performance brings the film forward and deserves some applause, and the film is ultimately an interesting and effective historical drama that should be watched if you have interest in the topic and one of the most important figures in one of the darkest hours our world has seen.