I must say my heart sank a little when I heard there was YET ANOTHER Churchill movie. But I was persuaded to see it because of the actor playing the eponymous role: Gary Oldman. It wasn’t just that he is a superb actor: many a superb actor has played, and no doubt will play, the role of Churchill. After all, it’s hardly one for the new RADA graduate!
I was more attracted to the fact that Oldman had chosen to do this. My thinking was, if he liked the script, it must be good. And how right my thinking was!
Darkest Hour looks in detail at the first few weeks of Churchill’s premiership: from being made Prime Minister to the famous “we shall fight on the beaches” speech.
Not the first choice for PM after the resignation of Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), Churchill was well aware of his own lack of popularity, and less-than glowing record in politics. He knows that even the King (Ben Mendelsohn) dislikes him and wants Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), instead. The scenes between Oldman and Mendelsohn are masterclasses in underplayed, pitch-perfect dialogue. Supported by the ever-loyal Clemmie, played by the wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas, Winston has to forge his own identity and find his own political voice. Much of the script, by Anthony McCarten, revolves around Winston’s working relationship with his personal assistant, Elizabeth Layton, played with both lightness and depth, by Lily James.
The experienced hand of director Joe Wright is felt in the assurance with which this work presents the development of the consummate politician, in a period of just a few weeks. Wright uses unexpected extreme close ups of objects to lighten and punctuate the work, and these interplay with the humour which McCarten has embraced in the writing. Scenes are kept deliberately small and mostly interior, with only the occasional use of newsreel-type footage of Dunkirk, as needed. This film is very much about the man and the war cabinet.
This is surprisingly gripping cinema. It neither idolizes nor demonizes Churchill, or any other major figure of the time. At its heart, it is an historic portrait of the way in which politics worked in 1940, and to a great extent, probably still does today.
Oldman is a knockout: that almost goes without saying. But this is, importantly, an ensemble piece. It doesn’t feel like a lazy star-turn, although as I write this, Oldman has just accepted the Golden Globe for Best Actor.
Every actor contributes another layer, making this work satisfying, thought-provoking, unpredictable and faultless.
Darkest Hour opens on January 11th.
Check out the official site here.