Darkest Hour review: Oldman was waiting all his life to play Churchill's role
Oldman's performance is designed to win awards
Thursday 18 January 2018
Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James
The true measure of a masterly performance is in its proclivity to hide the craft that goes behind the process of creating a character. In playing the blustering, bullying, opinionated, pigheaded, unorthodox, raunchy but finally effective British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who took on the might of Hitler, Oldman pulls out all the stops. He isn't afraid to let his impressive skills shine through the astonishing prosthetics. It is a performance designed to win awards.
And therein lies the main problem with this not-unimpressive biopic.
Oldman's portrayal of the blustering old man is spot-on, but designed to win the Oscar. The rest of the components in this Joe Wright directed film pale into insignificance. The film wears a strangely glum and dingy look, as though the parliament sessions and the Prime Minister's home at the time of Hitler's invasion were infected by a deep melancholy and a dismaying absence of sunshine. The last time I saw a film looking so glum was in Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth.
Watch the trailer here:
Darkest Hour revels in shadowy whispers and silhouetted innuendos. The parliamentary sessions shown in the film never rise above the level of staged drama and the famous Churchill speeches delivered through swigs of the trademark cigar, do not transcend the mood of doctored dogma. Interestingly, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel had earlier collaborated with director Tim Burton on Dark Shadows.
Nonetheless, the lengthy film has passages of excellence popping up like a clown at a very dull birthday party. One noteworthy portion of the film has Churchill jumping out of his car at a traffic signal and taking a ride on the subway train with British working class passengers.
"What's the matter? You've never seen a Prime Minister ride the subway before?" he asks the open-mouthed commuters cheekily.
As played by Oldman, Churchill is a bit of a defiant brat. His limited understanding of British politics is perpetually overridden by his determination to do what is right for the country.
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While the sequences where he brokers peacetime preconditions with his cabinet members are done with a self-important clumsiness, Churchill's personal relationships with the King (Ben Mendelsohn), with his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) and especially with his personal secretary (Lily James) come across with rigorous sinewiness.
In a moment of unguarded emotional honesty, the secretary tells Churchill that the war has taken away her brother. When she catches the Prime Minister staring at her, he tells her with disarming disingenuousness, "I just want to look at you."
Wish we could feel the same wave of empathy for the narrative which runs the gamut of manufactured emotions from political rhetoric to wartime sarcasm.
Darkest Hour never quite expels the feeling of being a vehicle for Oldman's virtuosity. Yes, he was born to play Churchill. But was Churchill born so that an actor as skilled as Oldman could one day play him?
Darkest Hour review: 2 1/2 stars
Rections from social media:
Gary Oldmam's performance as Churchill in The Darkest Hour is incredible. Has to get the oscar!
I don’t comment on movies often but The Darkest Hour is one I must... brilliant, tragic and profound...
You'd think a film about Winston Churchill called #DarkestHour wouldn't glorify him, but would document his numerous white supremacist, genocidal crimes against India, African nations, Palestine, Ireland and more
Gary Oldman is almost ethereal as the legendary Churchill in #DarkestHour. Like an unmethodical Lincoln, Oldman makes the great man his own. Wonderful, emotive, complex, at times childish even, he interacts with every member of this cast. Breathtakingly human.
Brilliant film - and a timely reminder of why we should keeping fighting #Brexit (for those who need it) #DarkestHour
It was a drama, of course, but I did also feel that the role played by Clement Attlee & the Labour Party in ensuring that Britain fought on was seriously misrepresented (ie ignored). #DarkestHour
Well @DarkestHour is bloody brilliant #darkesthour
Loved @DarkestHour Superb film making. Wasn't prepared for how moving it would be. Excellent acting and wonderfully shot. It's only 12 days in but I feel I may have seen my film of the year. #NeverSurrender #Churchill #DarkestHour