Following the critical and commercial disappointment that was ‘Pan’, director Joe Wright has bounced back and re-found himself in the war. However, rather than venturing back onto the battlegrounds such as his film ‘Atonement’, he instead is staying firmly inside the war room. Darkest Hour is perhaps Gary Oldman’s finest performance, but the film never quite decides if it wants to be a dark war-time thriller, or a charming drama about the struggles of a bumbling politician. The result is a film that never quite lives up to the legend.
Playing Winston Churchill under mountains of prosthetics, Gary Oldman’s performance is a monumental success. Though the makeup team deserve a special mention (who spent over 200 hours making him up during filming), it is Oldman himself who was utterly fantastic. His characterisation, posture and voice are incredible, and seems to tap into the legend of Churchill that is in the very fabric of the nation. Over filming, Oldman smoked around 400 cigars, to the value of £20,000, and this goes to show the level of commitment he went to in bringing this war-time hero to life.
Complimenting Oldman’s stunning performance is some outstanding cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel (of Harry Potter 6 and Inside Llewyn Davis fame). The unforgettable silhouette of Churchill is often seen storming through beautifully lit rooms and smoky halls, and there are many wonderfully creative framing choices present in the film.
Unfortunately, all these great aspects are forced to carry the narrative, which I felt lacked the necessary spark to inject something new into an often-told story. The film details Churchill’s first fortnight in office and the planning of Operation: Dynamo (the Dunkirk evacuation). This is an often-dramatized series of events, and I had hoped the film would reveal much more insight to them. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Christopher Nolan, on his film Dunkirk, said that he chose not to include scenes of Churchill in the war room, because he didn’t want to get “bogged down in the politics of the situation”. Clearly this film is the opposite, and as a result, there are a few too many scenes of old generals, in smoky rooms, shouting at each other. Not only this, but I am confident that many narrative liberties were taken, and I’m unsure just how true the film is in terms of re-telling real events. Certain scenes in the narrative felt a little too convenient, while others felt like pure fabrication, and this led to the overall film being let down.
While Darkest Hour may not be the best of the year, or even the best presentation of this series of events, Gary Oldman’s performance is a huge win, and one that carried the film. His charm, humour and enthusiasm meant the two-hour run-time never dragged, and his performance is worthy of all the awards thrown his way.