Fat suit? Check. Heavy prosthetics and makeup? Check. Actor at the top of his game bellowing some of history’s most famous speeches? Gary Oldman, awards season is all yours.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
World War II is in full swing by May 1940, and Britain needs a new Prime Minister to protect its national security. With the most obvious choice for PM unwilling to take up such a task, the responsibility is handed down to the only other man eligible – Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), the pompous and audacious political head of the Royal Navy. Britain faces imminent invasion with the unstoppable Nazi forces firmly gripping Western Europe, leaving Churchill to face a monumental challenge just days after being sworn in. With his own party conspiring to overthrow him, he must persuade a nation to stand and fight against its overwhelming enemy.
Gary Oldman is one of those actors that has surprisingly never won an Oscar, despite a long, distinguished career filled with consistently terrific performances. It hardly matters anymore, given the Oscars are more concerned with politics these days, but if the Academy still stood for the most exceptional commitments to cinema, Darkest Hour would be Oldman’s Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant moment.
Countless actors have portrayed Churchill – Oldman is the sixth from the Harry Potter films alone – but his performance easily ensures the rest will all be forgotten; even Brian Cox, who appeared in an unfortunately-timed Churchill biopic right before this one.
What bolsters this iteration of Churchill above the others is not a focus on the great things he achieved, but how he achieved these through his fundamental flaws as a human being. Oldman’s Churchill is not an easy man to warm to; he’s arrogant, cranky, rude and quick to create arguments. He shows little respect to his peers, all of whom seem to despise him – with just cause. And yet it’s his unorthodox, contentious ways that get the job done. It’s pure method-in-madness, and Oldman realises the full brilliance of this with a great amount of humour.
As a complete package, Darkest Hour isn’t quite as towering as the man at its core. It could certainly be considered a return to form for director Joe Wright, who stumbled massively when he entered blockbuster territory with Pan. He’s clearly back in his period piece comfort zone, with Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina being among his better films. Darkest Hour, however, lacks the well-roundedness and accessibility of these crowd-pleasers; it’s competent, but likely to only really pique the interest of those well-versed in the heavy politics and diplomacy of war.
It does, however, work surprisingly well as a companion piece to Dunkirk; while Christopher Nolan‘s film consisted only of the catastrophic events that occurred on the French beaches, this gives us the other side of the coin in what was occurring back home in Britain. Together, the two films form an extensive whole. On its own, Darkest Hour is a good compilation of Churchill’s greatest hits, elevated by a brilliant actor finally earning the acclaim he deserves.
Darkest Hour is available in Australian cinemas from January 11
Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018