Darkest Hour Review

Darkest Hour (2017) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin


Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Stars: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn

Darkest Hour is set during the early days of the second world war. The fate of Great Britain hangs on the newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill who must decide whether or not to negotiate with Adolf Hitler or fight against incredible odds.

Gary Oldman is playing Winston Churchill? Gary Oldman? The Gary Oldman? yes it is That Gary Oldman and what a performance by him.

I love historical movies and in particular the second world war ones that delve more into the characters of the war. Sure some folk have said this film compliments the recently released Christopher Nolan epic second war film “Dunkirk” released last year and vice versa. Yes the events in “Darkest Hour” are based around the events of Dunkirk but this movie is more character driven and gives us an insight into the pressures of one man against not just the Nazis but his own party who had little faith in him. Not comparing by any means but this is similar to the 2006 movie “Downfall” a more ground level character based story in amongst the chaos and as I said don’t think for one minute I am comparing Winston Churchill to Adolf Hitler. I’m comparing the way the story is based more on the man rather than the army.

Going back to Gary Oldman and his physical appearance in this movie is staggering to say the least. His performance and delivery are always going to be the most important elements to any actor but the look of him in this movie is equally as important and I don’t normally say that as performance should overshadow the cosmetic side of acting but it is essential here as Director Joe Wright loves a good close up and to be fair Gary Oldman spent over 200 hours in makeup undergoing a radical transformation that necessitated ‘fattening’ his body with prosthetics weighing half his own weight and this is thanks to the Makeup Department.

What I found fascinating was the different relationships Churchill has with certain characters in this movie and how he changes depending on the person. His interactions with Elizabeth Layton (James) are very tense at first and Oldman portrays a very uptight and angry man easily frustrated with incompetence and nervousness around him. On the other hand, his slightly sheepish nature around Clementine Churchill (Scott Thomas) shows another softer side to him that displays his much needed support from Clementine and in turn her strong willed persona in front of her Husband. Both Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas are enjoyable to watch and every scene they are in is intriguing and actually humorous at times.

The relationship of King George VI (Mendelsohn) and Churchill is also an interesting one. Mendelsohn’s performance is rather subtle and underplayed in comparison to Colin Firth’s portrayal in “The King’s Speech” The personal and political relationship between both men during the conflict is one that has been largely overlooked throughout history, yet the trust and loyalty these men both shared helped Great Britain navigate its perhaps most trying time and thankfully this is there in this movie. Oldman and Mendelsohn portray their characters in this spirit and their scenes are very well done.

As I said, Director Joe Wright seems to revel in close up action and it works in Darkest Hour. The heavy dialogue and intensity of the situation is aided by the facial expressions and reactions of the actors. You can sense their emotions in every scene thanks to Wright’s style. His previous work relied on this in Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina and also worked well in these movies.

Darkest Hour should be viewed with an open mind. Do not go into this with your own political baggage or personal view on Winston Churchill. This is the story of one man and his vision and stance against large odds, not only against a fascist regime but also his own party doubting his morals and decisions in the country’s hour of need. I personally enjoyed this movie because of the plot, the acting and the stakes involved. Oldman has to be nominated for an Oscar on this performance and I will be very surprised if the English actor is overlooked once more. The supporting cast add so much more to the story and James, Scott Thomas and Mendelsohn are as equally important in their roles.

I have been a fan of Gary Oldman for such a long time now and I will be surprised if he doesn’t win an Academy Award for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. He thoroughly deserved the accolade. For me Darkest Hour is Unmissable.

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