A tour-de-force performance by Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill drives "Darkest Hour", director Joe Wright's detailed account of four weeks in 1940 at the beginning of World War II. Churchill had just been appointed Prime Minister of England with the fate of Western Europe hanging in the balance.
"Darkest Hour" tells the story of Dunkirk in a very different way than Christopher Nolan's highly-praised film, "Dunkirk", out in July 2017 --- a movie David and I both disliked. As the Nazis advance on the British troops cornered on the beaches of Dunkirk, Churchill is being pressured by a faction in the British Parliament, led by Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), to negotiate with Hitler.
Knowing the eventual outcome of that brutal war, it seems untenable that such a suggestion was ever introduced. With the support of his strongest ally, his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), and the British people, Churchill takes a stand which saves the course of the United Kingdom.
Oldman, like other Oscar shoo-ins of the past, is formidable and extremely impressive in his characterization of Churchill. The man wasn't always kind, as evidenced by his treatment of the women in his life, primarily Clementine, and then Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), his faithful secretary. He could be a brute, but then again he was shouldering problems not many of us could tolerate. And Oldman doesn't back down from Churchill's boorish manners.
There was another film entitled "Churchill" about the invasion of Normandy out this past June with Brian Cox as the British Prime Minister and Miranda Richardson as his stoic wife. David and I enjoyed it immensely, and I actually think Cox resembled Churchill more than Oldman. But Oldman's portrayal of Churchill is that much
more forceful and convincing, thus he should be the front-runner come Oscar season for Best Actor. The closing scene alone will garner him the nomination.
As I watched these terrifying accounts of what really transpired during the early months of WWII, I am always struck by the good fortune with which Western Europe and Britain were blessed to have had such a brilliant mind leading the Allied army --- and then the fortunate entry of the U.S. into the war. I can't help but compare those leaders to the ones we have now in office in this country --- God help us all!
Opinion: See It Now!
Did the world really need yet another version of Winston Churchill's first few days in office when he struggled with the momentous decision to stand up to Hitler and the Nazis? With Gary Oldman portraying the crusty Prime Minister, the answer is yes.
Oldman's performance in "Darkest Hour" has to rate above two other signature portrayals of Churchill, notably Brian Cox earlier this year, and Brendan Gleeson's Emmy-winning turn in 2009. I'm not particularly a fan of Oldman's work, but there's no denying that his powerful take on Churchill --- especially when he offers a fiery speech in Parliament when it seems the whole world is against him --- is the best.
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Churchill's wife Clementine, but her role takes a distant back seat to past Clementine performances where "Clemmie" is a huge influence on Winston. In "Darkest Hour", she is almost an afterthought, hardly the vital cog in his decision-making process displayed in previous films.
Here we also are privy to the in-fighting and potential resignations of two key British politicos, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), the incumbent PM, and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), a key member of Parliament initially viewed as the logical replacement for Chamberlain. For a while, the notion that Great Britain would be better off negotiating a peace settlement with Hitler and his apparently unbeatable military was the popular choice.
Churchill, instead, delivers his stunning address to Parliament, insisting that literally every Brit fight to the death rather than surrender. And his impassioned plea to fellow countrymen in a radio broadcast is brilliantly conceived by acclaimed director Joe Wright.
It seems there is no end to WWII films. If they continue to be as dynamic and compelling as "Darkest Hour", we can only look forward to more in the future.
Opinion: See It Now!