Gary Oldman swept the board this year, winning the Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for his portrayal of Churchill in Darkest Hour. The film also won an Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. It is a companion piece to Dunkirk, which we showed earlier in the year. It tells of the same events, but from a different perspective: Nolan’s film focuses on the thousands of troops famously stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk during World War II; Wright’s takes place in the dim hallways of power in London, where politicians led by Churchill debate how to rescue them. And while Dunkirk swoops and dances with time, Darkest Hour is a straightforward, day-by-day depiction of world-changing events, told with meticulous simplicity.
During the early days of World War II, with the fall of France imminent, Britain faces its darkest hour as the threat of invasion looms. As the seemingly unstoppable Nazi forces advance, and with the Allied army cornered on the beaches of Dunkirk, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the leadership of the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. While maneuvering his political rivals, he must confront the ultimate choice: negotiate with Hitler and save the British people at a terrible cost or rally the nation and fight on against incredible odds. Directed by Joe Wright, Darkest Hour is the dramatic and inspiring story of four weeks in 1940 during which Churchill’s courage to lead changed the course of world history.
Darkest Hour is a handsome, old-fashioned film, filled with stirring music, dusty light and thoughtful performances — with one whopper of a star turn at its core. Oldman, who offscreen looks not a whit like Churchill, is physically transformed here: prosthetics drown his face in jowls; trousers are pulled high over a protruding belly; his walk is heavy and deliberate, leaning forward, hands clasped behind as if in counterbalance. His overstuffed cushion of a voice, complete with indistinguishable mumbles between words, intones both now-famous speeches (‘We shall fight on the beaches …’) and more prosaic dialogue. (‘How do you manage all this drinking during the day?’ someone asks Churchill, whose day begins with breakfast Scotch-and-soda. ‘Practice,’ the prime minister replies.)
Wright surrounds Oldman with masterful supporting players: Kristin Scott Thomas, who gets only enough time to make you wish that her arch Clemmie Churchill had a movie of her own (somebody please make this movie); Lily James as a wide-eyed young secretary to the prime minister; Ben Mendelsohn’s King George VI, struggling with a speech impediment (which Mendelsohn is careful not to overplay) and with events he cannot control. But this is Oldman’s movie, and it’s a pleasure to watch him disappear into Churchill. If the movie occasionally slips into implausibility — there’s a charming scene involving Churchill on the Tube that’s perhaps too charming — it’s easy to forgive. Darkest Hour is history made drama; a portrait of a leader both larger than life and utterly human.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall