And now, as they say, for a bit of context. In the role of a lifetime, Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) portrays Winston Churchill… no, belay that, he disappears into Churchill in a brilliant performance that follows Churchill’s installation as PM and lead-up to the evacuation at Dunkirk. It is a fascinating inside look at political cravenness, beaten down morale, and true patriotism. Actually rather a good mirror for today as well. Much of what Nolan leaves out of his movie is in this one. Together, you get a much better understanding of the situation and the desperation. What is mere exposition in Dunkirk becomes very real in The Darkest Hour.
Outside of Oldman, this film is really carried by only two other characters. Kristin Scott Thomas (My Old Lady) as Churchill’s wife and Lily James (Baby Driver) as his assistant provide Churchill’s conscience and connection back to humanity. And both relationships are funny and very real.
Coming off his disastrous Pan, Joe Wright acquits himself well with this latest film. His direction of Oldman alone will get him a lot of cred going forward. On the other hand, Anthony McCarten’s script isn’t quite as strong as his previous biopic offering, Theory of Everything. It is interestingly balanced to show Churchill’s transformation in the eyes of Parliament, and perhaps within himself, but the path isn’t quite as credible. The result makes the film a little uneven. While Oldman, Thomas, and James capture your heart and attention, the structure of the story and the flow to the end aren’t equally as strong. After a promising start, it drops the countdown conceit and fractures into too many storylines. Churchill’s transformation near the end is wonderful but also a tad abrupt. The critical scene itself is not based on any verifiable event, but is drawn and created from the historical record of Churchill’s actions as PM; but you so want it to be true. It is that emotional response that is part of the timeliness and impact of the movie.
But these are all minor details compared to the performance by Oldman. It is a must see portrayal. Oldman’s transformation is so complete it is jaw-dropping. And the film is still solid and interesting both as an historical and as a dark mirror into current politics and humanity.