Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) became Prime Minister of Britain in May 1940. World War II was raging with the Germans about to take Belgium and France. The British troops were being pushed back to Calais and Dunkirk. Other Parliamentarians led by his likely successor Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) and the recently deposed Neville Chamberlain ( Ronald Pickup) want Britain to sue for peace. Churchill has to decide whether to fight on or enter a brokered deal with Italy to get the best deal possible for Britain.
Director Joe Wright focuses on those few days in May in the film. On the home front, his wife Clemmie (Kristen Scott Thomas) supports him when he has doubts but is quick to challenge when he is getting out of line especially when dealing with his personal secretary Elisabeth Layton (Lily James) whose appearance is historically inaccurate but the role effective to the plot. Wright alongside writer Anthony McCarten push the thread of Churchill being out on a limb wanting to wage war to the end opposing the appeasers who felt that fascist Mussolini and Hitler would give Britain a fair deal.
This is Gary Oldman's film with the great support of the make up department who worked on Oldman long before anyone else reached set each day meaning that the rest of the cast only saw him in full Churchill persona. Oldman's dialogue, mannerisms, walk and diction are dead on. He is particularly effective when dallying in one of Churchill's two extremes mumbling inaudibly or bellowing at the top of his lungs. Ben Mendelsohn continues a run of strong performances as King George VI. It's notable to see pictures of the current Queen as a kid in his quarters. Bertie goes from seeing Churchill as reckless, dangerous and scary to the only person that can make it possible for him to stay in Britain and see the view from his balcony at Buckingham Palace.
Darkest Hour chronicles key moments in the last century that if things went differently the world would not be as we know it today. Gary Oldman delivers the best portrayal of a historical figure since Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. The scrip has some inaccuracies and a bit pedestrian at times but a worthy study of a person that stuck by his minority opinion buoyed by his decision to consult ordinary parliamentarians and the people themselves.
*** Out of 4.
Darkest Hour | Joe Wright | UK | 2017 | 125 Minutes.
Tags: World War II, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement, Winston Churchill, Boer War, Gallipoli, Adolf Hitler, Calais, Dunkirk, Operation Dynamo.