A penetrating film, Gary Oldman’s performance is a movie classic by any definition.
Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright, is a great historical drama that may win Gary Oldman an Oscar for his memorable performance as Winston Churchill. It recounts the tension taking place in England in May, 1940, when Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) as Prime Minister.
Churchill was not a popular man in governmental circles, and he faced a War Cabinet that urged peace negotiations with Hitler. As described in Lloyd Clark’s recent book “Blitzkreig”, Nazi Germany was quickly bringing Holland, Belgium and France to their knees, and Britain was left with over 300,000 soldiers trapped in the French coastal town of Dunkirk.
Churchill’s instinct was to fight to the last man standing, but his own conservative party, led by Viscount Halifax (Stephan Dillane), felt strongly that a settlement with Hitler was the only reasonable solution. Even King George VI, played in a magnetic fashion by Ben Mendelsohn, initially questioned Churchill’s judgment and ability.
Churchill harbored his own self-doubts, and it was here that Oldman captured the magic of the moment. While he miraculously found strength from combining cigars with whiskey, wine and port from morning to night, his wife Clementine was his most ardent supporter. Kristin Scott Thomas is stunning in her role as a spouse whose love and admiration strengthens her husband’s backbone.
As vividly shown in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece Dunkirk, British resolve saved an army from destruction on the French beaches in early June, 1940. But the only way that happened was because one man, Winston Churchill, had the courage to urge his countrymen to never surrender.
Let me also point out the captivating performance of Lily James, who played Elizabeth Layton, Churchill’s personal secretary. As recently shown in Baby Driver, this is an accomplished actress. Here, she captures your heart as a young woman who learns to tolerate Churchill’s moods while privately mourning her boyfriend’s disappearance while fighting in France. Through her you learned the horrible cost of war.
Finally, this film helps to restore Churchill’s reputation largely destroyed in the lackluster film released earlier this year titled under his last name. Painted as an egotist who tried to prevent the D-Day invasion in June, 1944, he now is rightfully honored as the man who paved the way for the victory of World War II.