There are countless ways to approach a life as iconic as Winston Churchill’s, and Darkest Hour makes the wise choice of zeroing in on what truly set the man apart from his contemporaries. When predecessor Neville Chamberlain was appeasing Hitler, and the rest of Europe was toppling like dominoes, two things made Churchill the man for the moment: his fighting spirit and his way with words.
Far from the caricatured sloganeer Britons know at a glance, Anthony McCarten’s script presents a flawed but ferocious man, tormented by self-doubt and the unimaginable pressure of leading a nation in its most vulnerable moment.
Of course, this complex portrait is only made possible by an equally complex performance from Gary Oldman. His physical transformation is impressive, but it feels like an attention-grabbing headline to what’s going on underneath all those prosthetics: one of the most committed and powerful performances of the year. It feels a cliché to say Oldman becomes Churchill, as if the mere act of imitation were worthy of applause, but he embodies the man’s spirit so effectively that you feel you’re in the room beside him.
If that spirit is an interpretation rather than the gospel truth, it only serves to underline Darkest Hour’s point about the value of myth-making. World War Two may have been won with bullets and bombs, but it was also won with words. Nations under that kind of catastrophic pressure run on belief just as much as rations.
Darkest Hour is a return to form for director Joe Wright after Pan, and a forensic study of how power operates. He crafts some of the best characters of his career, supported by his reliable visual instinct that knows just when to dazzle and when to let the performances speak for themselves.
CAST: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane
DIRECTOR: Joe Wright
WRITER: Anthony McCarten
SYNOPSIS: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.