Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Joe Wright
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Bruno Delbonnel
WRITER: Anthony McCarten
MUSIC: Dario Marianelli
The Oscar nominations are in! Now, it’s time for me to take a step back and try to catch up on a few films that I may have missed during the holiday season. I start by taking a look at “Darkest Hour”, a film that has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Gary Oldman and Best Picture.
“Darkest Hour” is another straight-forward docudrama that aims to tell it like it was despite a few scenes being filmed for dramatic license. The movie is a drama about the first days of Winston Churchill’s time as Prime Minister of Great Britain. World War II was only eight months old for the nation when the Parliament demands the resignation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for being too weak against the Nazi menace sweeping across Europe.
It is decided that the only person that the opposition will accept as Chamberlain’s replacement is Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), the only one who really spoke out against Hitler from the start. The only problem is that there is almost no one in his own party that likes him or takes him seriously. Also, the King himself has extreme reservations about the new Prime Minister as well.
This movie goes all in on Oldman as Churchill. Not for a good long while has an entire film rested on the shoulders of one actor such as this. Thankfully, this is an actor who has disappeared into many roles over his long and celebrated career. This movie is no exception as Oldman becomes Churchill and thankfully, he doesn’t just play the World War II legend.
Oldman plays the man behind-the-scenes and both he and the filmmakers want to show this character’s complexity. He may be destined to become one of the greatest wartime leaders ever, but he is also a temperamental drunk who put his career well above his own family as well. His newest assistant, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), is almost run out of the house on her first day due to his sometimes volatile attitude.
Layton is only saved by the graciousness of Churchill’s wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), the only person who seems to be able to calm him down at times and reminds him how human he is. I most definitely applaud the film for giving us more of who the man actually was rather than just the leader that we already know from the history books.
My only real problem with this film is that it does tend to drag, even for a strict docudrama. Most of the emotional weight of the film is centered on the absolute uncertainty of whether or not Britain can really win a war against Hitler. After awhile, all we are being reminded of is that Churchill is fighting against a demoralized government and there is no real progress in the narrative until the third act finally kicks in.
Despite the slow pace, though, this film is completely stolen by Oldman. Yes, the set design, the cinematography and the make-up are all wonderful and worthy of praise. In the end, though, they only service the performance of an actor who turns in yet another powerful role.