In a time where politics and the people that discuss them are so easily accessible – for better, or worse – Darkest Hour might well be the greatest insight into one of the United Kingdom’s most outspoken and greatest leaders before tweets, opposing news pieces. It’s a job that Gary Oldman with all his accumulated acting prowess bravely chews on like a freshly-lit cigar.
Directed by Joe Cornish, Darkest Hour sees Britain close to collapse as its part in the second world war points to defeat. In steps Churchill, filling the seat of a recently voted out Prime Minister and with an undertaking that meets doubt on all sides. Key members of his own party don’t see him fit for the job, the King has his own doubts and there’s an option of negotiating with Germany that Churchill refuses to acknowledge. What can one man tasked with the safety of his country do in such truly desperate times? It’s a battle that the V-throwing face of the nation is determined to answer.
In a story of a man who refused to surrender, Gary Oldman seems to give himself up to bring Winston Churchill to life, showing an immense devotion to the role and an unquestionable highlight of his career. Appearing in that infamous stance hunched over to all those around him, Oldman still towers above this stellar cast as a staple of history that was burdened with a duty only he could deal with.
Lost under some of the most amazing prosthetics ever caught on film, Oldman goes at the gig like a British bulldog, encapsulating that infamous temper and dry wit that’s muttered through plumes of cigar smoke. Every moment is displayed with immense focus and detail, rarely shifting to the battlefield (Nolan’s already nailed that last year, I guess) as our hero tackles the opponents that aren’t shouting rants of tyranny over the wireless, but sat across from him in the war room voicing their thoughts on the future of the nation, and the focus point of building tension.
Such hair-raising moments are beautifully constructed under director Joe Cornish who draws you into Churchill’s world that, just like our view, is close to falling into shadow. Joining him in the light is a supporting cast that all bring their best and with such great competition it’s impossible not to do so. Ben Mendelsohn continues to show his worth standing across from Oldman as King George, whilst Stephen Dillane as Lord Halifax is one of the few to look down at the man guiding the country, and does so with a coolness that is just as absorbing.
Massive praise must also fall on Kristin Scott Thomas as the effortlessly elegant but just as empowering other half of our once great leader, Clementine Churchill. Watching her put Winston in check is a breath of fresh air that is distributed with ease, pointing her husband in the right direction and leaving the timid assistant Elizabeth Layton, played by Lilly Collins, to help guide him to the V we know he’ll reach.
As much a joint effort Darkest Hour may be though, Oldman carries the brunt of the weight and turns out what is undeniably the best performance he’s ever delivered, simply because you forget he’s there. It’s truly a liberation of the Oldman.