We get to see Gary Oldman flex his acting muscles as Winston Churchill in this close examination of one month in the early part of World War Two.
Darkest Hour tells the story of Winston Churchill’s rise to prime minister, and his embattled position to stand against the Nazis in Germany. However, let’s be honest, everyone is just seeing this because of Gary Oldman—right?
I saw the film before the Oscars, but am reviewing it after they aired (laziness on my part). As I watched the movie, I kind of figured that Oldman would take the best actor category, and really only saw Daniel Day-Lewis as his competition. Did he deserve it? Yeah, I think so. He is almost unrecognizable in all the makeup, and he can manipulate his voice greatly. The acting is superb from everyone involved. Almost everyone feels like a real person as we watch, so the characters are strong.
I suppose an unfortunate aspect of the film is that we have hindsight bias. Churchill was right and England prevailed in WWII, and the film seems to argue that Churchill was obviously right at the time. I am not saying that England should have capitulated to Nazi Germany—far from it, but Chamberlain’s notions of negotiation aren’t inherently stupid. Almost all of Europe collapsed in about a month in the face of the German army, so the idea that England would be the exception would have seemed a bit far-fetched. I get that this is a small gripe to an otherwise decent film, but it is the problem with all of biopics.
To this film’s credit, they do show Churchill as a bit of an ass. He is loud, boorish, rude, and has an explosive temper. Showing these faults was pleasant for me as the biopic genre is often just too hammy. Let’s make everyone else one dimensional so our hero looks good—I hate that sort of thinking. This film does suffer from the same problem, but a little bit less so than The Imitation Game or just about any other biopic.
Churchill was an excellent speaker, and we are treated to many of these speeches. Throughout the month of May, Churchill not only became Prime Minister, but also had to rally England behind his ideas of resistance. Fiery rhetoric and passionate language abound here—and these moments are the highlight of the film. Tense arguments and high stakes permeate every scene. Even Churchill’s idea of sending a leisure navy to Dunkirk is seen as ill-conceived, but that appears to have been a stroke of genius. We see a little of Dunkirk and other battles, but not much. Most of this film is held within underground chambers where men debate over what seems to be a lose-lose situation. While this makes for a film with some powerful moments, it also makes for a film where the plot sounds thin. Granted, huge and historic things happened in this month, but it is hard to reminisce about the film “Remember that part in the bunker? … No not that one.”
The film looks good. We do get some interesting scenes and transitions, but most of it is claustrophobic. The boxy framing of the film lends to Churchill being entrapped by all sides. I liked the look of the film, and while nothing jumps out as spectacular, the camera never bothered me. The film is just kind of there. It is a well made film about an important figure. We can all walk out of the theater feeling a little smarter (or something) for having seen it. Despite all of the good parts, something about this one just didn’t jump out to me. It is worth seeing, but I don’t think it is worth buying. 7/10