The American Academy of Motion Pictures may want to think about adding another category for the Oscars this year for best prosthetics. Following hot on the heels of Woody Harrelson’s latex face as LBJ, we now have Gary Oldman’s face totally submerged under Kazuhiro Tsuji’s masterful make up as Winston Churchill. Whatever happened to the days when the cast an actor because he looked like the historical figure he was playing?
The British Prime Minister who governed the country during World War 2 seems to be a constant fixture on our screens recently too. With John Lithgow’s award winning turn in The Crown, then Brian Cox playing the title role in a rather melodramatic movie released this summer simply called Churchill, and now Oldman tackles him at the beginning of his first term as Premier at the start of the war.
The Opposition Party agree to be part of a coalition government under condition that Chamberlain, the deeply unpopular P.M., is replaced. Churchill is not considered the best candidate but as he was once a member of the Opposition Party, he is the one they will agree too. Even the King (Ben Mendelsohn) is reluctant to ask Churchill to take over, but under the Constitution he has little option than to honor the Government’s choice.
The new P.M. decides to appoint his main detractors to the War Cabinet on the basis that he prefers to have his ‘enemies’ close at hand, but that does however make for some very contentious Meetings as the ‘old guard’ still want to keep pursuing policies that have failed miserably to date. The rumbustious Churchill, who starts his days with whisky for breakfast, will have no talk of appeasement or negotiating via Mussolini, and insists on taking bold and potentially catastrophic moves to resolve the crisis the Army now has to deal with.
Faced with the prospect of over 300,000 British troops being trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk with the German Troops rapidly approaching, Churchill orders an extraordinary flotilla of every single civilian boat that is available to set sail for the French Coast to rescue as many soldiers as they can. Within three days the mission’s success defies anyone’s expectations from being the country’s ……. and Churchill’s ……darkest hour, into one of its finest ones too.
The story is well-documented so there are no real surprises, but Oldman, in a career best performance, captures the very essence of this larger-than-life man but without sliding into caricature which so often happens. His loving and supporting wife Clementine (as played by a radiant Kristin Scott-Thomas) has the difficult role of keeping the great man in check when he oversteps the mark with his naturally brusque manner, and she also has to be at hand on the few times when he starts to doubt his own ability.
Kudos to Joe Wright who directed the movie from a script by Anthony McCarten, who with his Production Designer Sarah Greenwood and D.P. Bruno Delbonnel lit his sets very theatrically, making the contrast so stark and visually stunning. Using his usual composer Oscar winner Dario Marianelli to provide a sonorous soundtrack simply heightened the drama in the most tense scenes.
Darkest Hour is a compelling period drama with its impressively high production values, although with a 2 hour running time, it would have been even more perfect if it cut another 30 mins.