One of Britain’s greatest actors takes on the role of one of Britain’s greatest heroes in a movie hotly tipped to earn Gary Oldman his first Oscar at the 2018 Academy Awards. Darkest Hour follows Churchill as he becomes Prime Minister in the midst of a crisis, with a Nazi onslaught engulfing Netherlands, Belgium and France and closing in on Great Britain.
Something I didn’t realise prior to watching Darkest Hour was that the film revolves entirely on the 2-3 week period in which Winston Churchill become the Prime Minister, and does not touch upon the final 5 years of World War 2, except in a brief summary at the end of the film. The events that the film does focus on I found extremely interesting – particularly the difficulties that Churchill faced in persuading certain members of his War Cabinet not to attempt to negotiate peace talks with Italy and Germany at a moment when Germany was rampaging through Europe with little opposition. Unfamiliar as I was before about the struggles that Churchill faced, I found Darkest Hour gripping and interesting throughout, which is particularly important in a 2 hour long film about a political figure.
A question I found myself asking during the film was this: was Churchill actually the mastermind behind Britain’s war success, or was he just a pig-ignorant, stubborn leader who refused to negotiate peace talks and was lucky that his gamble didn’t result in a German invasion? The film answered my question in a way, and we all know how the war ended but it was certainly entertaining finding out how Churchill shaped the war efforts in the early days.
It almost goes without saying given the immense praise coming his way at the moment, but Gary Oldman is superb as Winston Churchill. Virtually unrecognisable for 95% of the film, the only way you can tell it’s him underneath the thick layer of prosthetics is by certain facial movements and mannerisms. Oldman’s Churchill is a difficult leader – brash and aggressive in some interactions, but quiet and affecting in others. Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas deserve great credit for their roles as Elizabeth Layton, his personal assistant, and Clementine Churchill, his long suffering wife; they help to lend a personal touch to the British hero who is waging war with his cabinet and arguing with the King over dinner.
Oldman is barely recognisable as Churchill
For all of Darkest Hour’s successes, the last half an hour felt slightly out of place with the rest of the film – none more so than in an overly long scene on the London Underground which was slightly cringe-worthy, and felt like it had been shoe horned in to the completed film at a later date as an afterthought. What was even more disappointing about this scene, was I discovered afterwards that it didn’t even happen, meaning the scene could have been cut from the film entirely. While Oldman is almost guaranteed to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his tremendous performance, I feel pretty assured in saying that Darkest Hour won’t take home the Best Picture Oscar at the ceremony in March.
Overall, Darkest Hour was a hugely entertaining study of the war hero that Britain has come to know, with an excellent lead performance by Gary Oldman setting the film alight. The less than impressive (and inaccurate) final half-hour is the only misstep.