Darkest Hour

Checked out Darkest Hour, the new drama about Winston Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister of Britain and the few months following, including the Dunkirk evacuation and his “we shall never surrender” speech. The film is most notable for starring an unrecognizable Gary Oldman, a thin made to look like the overweight Churchill. It’s a great performance.
 
As noted, the film falls around the time of the Dunkirk boat rescue and is an interesting parallel to the on-the-ground/in-the-air/on-the-water realism of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk movie. This is the political side, focusing on the driven Churchill as he maneuvers around his war cabinet which includes his political enemies (including Chamberlain… yes the former PM who tries to appease Hitler earlier in the war). Churchill desperately tries to find a way to save the British army while not conceding an inch to Hitler. Chamberlain and his cronies try to force Churchill to admit he will consider no peace talks and thus force a vote of no confidence.
 
It’s a curious movie that casts a warmonger, a man who would normally be the bad guy, as the hero of the film. But we must also remember he was facing down Hitler and the German army with options to sue for peace with Mussolini as the intermediary. We know that literal Hitler is not to be appeased so Churchill is the hero… yet his singular focus on war, which did rally the British people, would normally be viewed as bad. Wrong. If it weren’t, you know, World War II.
 
It’s a good balancing act in a movie that is a Drama with a capital D. Gary Oldman and the script chew through this movie like it was the British people’s darkest hour (which, hey, it was). You could argue that the movie is overly dramatic (not melodramatic at least) and you’d be right… it probably needed a little more down-time but that’s not too much of a criticism. It’s just that the movie is 2+ hours long and that’s a stretch to be so keenly focused on political and personal anxiety.
 
Gary Oldman IS quite amazing. The makeup job is remarkable. Only once did I think I saw some of the seems in the makeup… but even then, i couldn’t see any of Gary Oldman under that latex. Oldman carries himself and portrays the voice of Churchill quite well. At first it seems a bit like an impersonation but that falls away and I just saw an overweight man of a certain age playing a historical figure, not Gary Oldman.
 
So this is a very good movie, one of the better of 2017. I liked its historical perspective… most of which I’m assuming is true though there may be some fabricated scenes to heighten the drama (certainly one scene set on a subway train didn’t happen). It’s a great performance in a really rock solid film. A decent other-side-of-the-story to Dunkirk as well.
Score: 87

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