Following on from last year’s ‘Churchill’ comes ‘Darkest Hour’, the second film focusing on UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in only a matter of months. Whilst ‘Churchill’ told the story of the final days of the World War II, well into Churchill’s time as Prime Minister, ‘Darkest Hour’ gives us an insight into the first days of his time in power. ‘Churchill’ suffered from a rather dull presentation of it’s narrative and was saved only by the brilliant titular performance from Brian Cox, would ‘Darkest Hour’ be able to fare any better?
The awards campaign for this film is heavily focused on one aspect, Gary Oldman’s leading performance. He’s unrecognisable as a result of the remarkable prosthetic work used here to create the image of the British icon. The end product is fantastic and the confidence in this is shown by director Joe Wright’s use of closeups on more than one occasion. Many have claimed this to be Oldman’s career best performance and there would be no protest from me about that. He’s a force to be reckoned with as he delivers Churchill’s famous speeches and as he furiously debates with the war cabinet but he also wonderfully shows the Prime Minister’s personality and humour. There’s much more to a film than it’s lead performance but ‘Darkest Hour’ is a must-see due to Oldman’s performance alone. He’s surrounded by a collection of very talented cast members which only compliment his work in the leading role further. Ben Mendelsohn plays King George VI in a convincing manner. Lily James is the secretary to Churchill and she adds some much needed humanity & perspective to the picture whilst Kristin Scott Thomas is Clementine Churchill and brilliantly showcases the love and support Churchill had at home.
Joe Wright certainly gets the most out of his cast, creating a multitude of impressive performances but did his writing and direction measure up? The narrative here is about Churchill’s battles at home with his war cabinet, Parliament and even royalty as he tries to manoeuvre the British forces in Europe. We see Churchill face opposition from his own party in the shape of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) & Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) which offers an intriguing plot thread and as political dramas go Wright tells the story well, adding cinematic drama into certain moments rather skillfully. However, there is no escaping that this is a film almost entirely made up of conversations and speeches and subsequently the film’s length is rather noticeable. Similarly to last year’s ‘Churchill’ without an invested interest in this period of history or the political figure some audiences will struggle to stay engaged for the entirety of the films run time.
Nonetheless ‘Darkest Hour’ provides us with one of, if not the best, on screen portrayals of Winston Churchill there’s ever likely to be. Gary Oldman’s commitment to this role is quite something and he deserves every accolade thrown at him. The rest of the cast are very much in his shadow but despite this they also deliver great performances, creating a strong ensemble to tell this narrative. It’s this story which will divide audiences though, you’ll most likely know yourself if this kind of political drama will maintain your attention but director Joe Wright makes every effort to make sure that it will.
Written by Hamish Calvert
Rating – 8/10
Question: What is your favourite Gary Oldman film performance?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)
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