To V, Or Not To V: A Review Of "Darkest Hour"
The story behind the iconic photo of Winston Churchill flashing the V sign for Victory in the midst of the debacle that was happening in Europe at the time is one of the rare intentional light moments of this biopic that takes on the events of May 1940 - Churchill replacing Neville Chamberlain as Britain's Prime Minister, resisting the forces within that were bent on Appeasement and wanted to negotiate with Hitler to spare England from invasion, and what happened at Dunkirk. As such, it's an incredible historical portrait of a man under great stress and pressure, being undermined at every turn, and finding inspiration and resolution in the most unexpected places. While the events in themselves play like a History Channel special, Gary Oldman's 'imbibing' the role of the pugnacious Churchill is a wonder and joy to watch!
Gary Oldman and his transformation as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour
Quick, what's your favorite Gary Oldman role? There have been so many; but my personal choices are his duplicitous DEA officer in Leon: The Professional, his support role as the addled Rastafarian in True Romance, and playing off Tim Roth in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Others would say his Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or his lead villain in Air Force One. And one sees how chameleon-like he's been when assuming roles, surrendering to the character and immersing himself such that we often say, 'Wait, that was Gary Oldman?'
And that has been Oldman's special gift - his genuine versatility. Is it his Royal Shakespeare Company training? Who knows, but it is in sharp contrast to a number of renowned American actors who, no matter what role they play, merely use their 'mark' and augment with touches here and there. Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, even Jack Nicholson in the latter stages of his career, I would call guilty of that 'lazy' school of acting - it's often the hallmark of the popular film star as opposed to the actor. And Oldman can never be charged with that.
In Darkest Hour, while Oldman as Churchill is the center of attention; he enjoys wonderful support from the likes of Kristin Scott-Thomas as Clementine, Churchill's wife, Lily James as Churchill's secretary (and yes, you may not at first recognize her, the romantic interest in Baby Driver), and Ben Mendelsohn as King George. As for historical accuracy, it is sad to report that the subway ride never happened; but that does not take away from the stirring essence of the film treatment of this crucial juncture of World War II history.
Directed by Joe Wright, Darkest Hour marks a return of sorts to the battle at Dunkirk for Wright, which features heavily in his earlier film, Atonement. Kudos to Wright for keeping actual battle scenes to a minimum, concentrating on the Parliament in-fighting and the inner demons that raged within Churchill. This distinguishes the film from Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, where Churchill's 'We shall fight them on the beaches' speech is read on the train at the film's end.
In terms of narrative, there may not be much to distinguish this film; but do watch it for a majestic portrayal of the man by a truly great actor. His transformation, his physical delivery, his gestures and tics, are all a joy to watch.