Winston Churchill was a heavyset, almost balding man who spoke with deliberate pauses, as if considering each utterance. A powerful orator with a sharp tongue, the former British Prime Minister was an intimidating personality. On the other hand, Gary Oldman is a lean man with smooth linguistic prowess. But when Oldman takes on Churchill’s persona for the Darkest Hour , it’s hard to imagine another actor pulling off such a performative feat.
Directed by Joe Wright, the Darkest Hour chronicles the events following Neville Chamberlain’s resignation. The Nazis have occupied Belgium and the Netherlands, and France will soon follow if the Allies (especially the British) don’t act soon. Churchill, with very little popularity, is a last resort, is instated as Prime Minister.
- Director: Joe Wright
- Cast: Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup
- Storyline: The Nazis are advancing in Europe and Great Britain could fall any moment. Their one hope is the mercurial Winston Churchill.
Truth be told, there’s very little history in the Darkest Hour . Indeed, it forms the shell of the premise: while Churchill has to fight the Nazis (we see very little of that anyway), he’s also got to battle his own cabinet members including Chamberlain and Lord Edward Halifax (Stephen Dillane). Instead, the film a very expansive playground for Oldman to display his incredible acting chops. Fortunately, he does deliver. The actor seamlessly disappears into the make-up that transforms him into Churchill. It’s glaringly evident in every lick of Churchill’s lips that have just kissed a cigar; to each emotional outburst when his position is doubted. Oldman captures the Prime Minister’s eccentricities perfectly: restrained when he’s indecisive about evacuating the army from Dunkirk; squirmy in the face of discomfort during repast with the King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), and proudly chuckling at his own comments.
Wright’s focused single-minded direction takes the audience on a journey, plummeting with Churchill’s low spirits and soaring with his triumphs. It makes history fades into the background. What remains instead, is only that one figure, who is supported by brilliant performances from Mendelsohn and Dillane. Special credit also goes to Kazuhiro Tsuji, the make-up designer genius who brings historical figures to life on the big screen. There are plenty of close-ups of Churchill’s face but never once does his leathery wrinkled skin, thinning hair or liver patches appear artificial.
To put it simply, you don’t know whether Oldman accurately depicts the Prime Minister, but it’s incredibly easy to believe it.