Every year at Oscar season, I tend to watch the films that are nominated for best picture, and while having already seen a couple of them, it was time to check out Darkest Hour, staring a pretty much unrecognisable Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill in the 1940s at the height of Britain’s involvement during World War 2.
Having recently re-watched The King’s Speech, and currently watching Netflix’s The Crown, Darkest Hour slotted in nicely to help fill some more of the gaps during Churchill’s reign. Although I would not recommend doing it this way, as I love John Lithgow’s rendition of the man and have grown quite use to it, Gary Oldman still does an amazing job. In fact I will say that if he does not win Best Actor at least for his role in this movie, then there is no justice in the world.
While I would say that Darkest Hour is probably not the best film that is up for best picture, as I was a huge fan of Three Billboards, it is a close second (from the ones I have seen). It was still a really enjoyable film so long as you are into historical biopics, such as Lincoln (which won best picture a few years prior in 2012) and The King’s Speech (which won it in 2010), so you can see that these type of films always do well at the Oscars.
The film follows Churchill dealing with the fall of France in 1940, which resulted in the British army pulling out until the American’s got involved a few years later. It covers him dealing with his own war council as they plot to replace him, and even open up a line of communication with Adolf Hitler and see if they cannot negotiate peace.
Having recently watched Christopher Nolan’s World War 2 epic; Dunkirk, for about half of the film, Darkest Hour is a refreshing take on the same battle from the position of the men, back in good old Blighty, pulling the strings, making decisions on how they are going to get there soldiers off of the beach at Dunkirk, and somehow win the war or even save their own skin from the growing Nazi power consuming the entirety of Europe.
Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones) always seems to pop up in these things, and in this he plays Viscount Halifax; the leader of the coup against Churchill within his own war council. His plan is to get Churchill to go on record and state that he will not even consider negotiations with Germany and is focused on war, so that he can get Winston thrown out of office and replaced with someone who will.
Which is a terrifying thought as a British citizen. I am not 100% sure on how much of this is historical accurate, but I would imagine that the writers would have done their homework on the matter, and so it is great to see how Churchill fought against the odds to continue the fight against the Axis, where as other men would have simply come to terms to allow Hitler to rule over Europe.
Regardless of what any millennial types say about the man, Winston Churchill was a true British hero and it is unknown how the world would be now if he was not there to see it through.
Throughout Darkest Hour, I did pick up a few other interesting things that I will go away and read up on, such as the Siege of Calais, which was where a group of 40,00 soldiers were sent to their deaths to draw the approaching Germany army away from the 400,000 soldiers stuck on the beach at Dunkirk, as well as something as small as the cat at Winston Churchill’s country estate, as his wish was that there must ALWAYS be a ginger and white cat living at the residence, and since then there has always been.
Having a ginger and white cat myself, made this all the more appealing.
Of course the film is not going to be for everyone. If you are not a historic fan, then this is not going to be for you. It is a little hard going for the first two thirds of the film. The last third of the film was absolutely brilliant, and there is a great moment when Churchill takes the underground, interacting with the general public, and this was just brilliantly done and fantastically written. It was a powerful scene that is then followed on by more powerful scenes as Churchill battles against the people within his own party plotting against him, uniting the members of parliament, and having to confess to the nation that the threat in Europe is a million times worse than they originally lead the public to belief (by not saying that the British army was in full retreat and that the French has surrendered).
With a film like this, it is imperative that you sit quietly and pay attention to what is being said, as THAT is the film. My missus clearly lost interest and was texting, trying to start up conversations, and generally mucking about, so she did not enjoy the film as much as I did.
While there is a few other characters who try to have their own little storylines going on during the course of the film, all they are set to do is bulk up Churchill himself, and do not get any real screen time for us to appreciate or even care for them. I’m looking at you Winston’s new secretary.
These characters are just over shadowed by the sole focus of this film; Gary Oldman dressed up as Winston Churchill, and for us to just appreciate how good an actor he truly is.
There are times when you completely forget that it is even Oldman and just completely believe that it is Churchill himself. There are glimmers of the actor beneath, but you will only catch them in a heartbeat before immersing you once more. It is for this very reason that Gary Oldman clearly deserves the Oscar for best actor.
Overall, Darkest Hour is a very interesting biopic on a very recently overused historical legend. From John Lithgow in The Crown, Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech, and even Brian Cox earlier in 2017 in Churchill, makes it difficult for one actor to stand out among the rest, but Gary Oldman is an actor we all know and all love (I guarantee one of your favourite films feature him), and he does an outstanding job.
While the film is a little hard going at times, and can be a bit of a drag if you are not interesting in the political side of British history during the early(ish) days of World War 2, the performance throughout is remarkably memorable, and the third act of the film makes it worthy of being nominated for Best Picture, if, in my opinion, it might not be THE film of the year.
I am giving this film 4 robots purely on Oldman’s performance, as without it, it would have unfortunately been a 3.