Darkest Hour is a character study based on legendary English leader Winston Churchill, in particular focusing on the early part of his tenure and the way he tackled the divide between his own war cabinet about the soldiers in Dunkirk. Gary Oldman is unrecognisable in the trailers and was nominated for best actor hours before I saw Darkest Hour.
There isn’t really anywhere else to start except with Gary Oldman in the lead role. He completely transforms into Churchill, and his performance has everything you’d want from a character like this. He has all the gravitas and commanding presence you’d expect from such a revered figure, but Oldman shows the vulnerable side of the man, which is something we rarely hear about.
Gary Oldman is incredible and is head and shoulders ahead of any performance I’ve seen in any film that qualifies for this years Oscars. In fact this is one of the best performances I’ve seen in a few years, and for me, would have won Best Actor last year over Leonardo DiCaprio had they have been competing. I haven’t seen Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, or any of the other nominees for best actor, but if any of them can compete with Oldman this will go down as one of the greatest years for the best actor category.
Aside from Oldman, the supporting cast all show up and give stellar performances, in particular Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) standing out as Churchill’s typist. Kristen Scott Thomas doesn’t get a lot to do as Winston’s wife Clemmie, but the little she does have is powerful, and you get the point that Churchill is a man who sacrificed a large part of his family life for the job he has always wanted. This points to the fact that the film hints that Churchill is far from perfect, but he was exactly the person for what his country needed at the time.
The movie is fully focused on Churchill and there is not much else the film explores. Not to say there isn’t enough in that story to be interesting, but I do feel like the stakes of the situation in Dunkirk and Calais are lost a little due to the fact we hardly see anything from that area. There is one scene that gives us a little connection to the conflict, but mostly we are just given names and numbers for the soldiers in need of rescue. What I think may have helped is to make the film 10 minutes longer, maybe cut out 5 minutes of war cabinet chat, and put in a little sub plot of the soldiers on the front line to show the effect of the decisions being made in the war rooms.
One of the reasons this stuck out to me is that Darkest Hour made me want to watch Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The film is like the perfect build up to that film, giving it context and meaning that I can only imagine adds to the experience of watching Nolan’s film. I haven’t seen Dunkirk yet, but Darkest Hour has given me more motivation than ever to watch it, which is a really odd effect for a film to have. I think as a double feature, the two films would enhance each other, but without the action side of Dunkirk, Darkest Hour just misses that connection to the front lines.
The other odd thing, not necessarily negative, is the score for the film. I enjoy the score, the music itself is great and fits the film well. However there is times when the score is used when I think it should have been held off and it distracted from the dialogue happening on-screen. The best scores are the ones that you remember how to hum, but don’t notice it at all during the actual film.
Good: Gary Oldman’s performance is the reason you go to see Darkest Hour, and he delivers an incredible showing that is likely to bag him a gold statue. The subject matter is incredibly interesting and the fact it’s all based closely on real events adds to the intrigue of the film.
Bad: The only real negatives I had is there not being anything to really show the ramifications of the decisions as mentioned above, and the slightly intrusive score hold back this really great film from being one of the best.
8/10 – One Legendary Oldman