Billed as one of Gary Oldman’s greatest performances, for which he was nominated for the best actor in a leading role oscar, this it undoubtedly is. But, shown on the BBC recently as part of their commemoration of VE Day, is it any good or is it just the usual predicted jingo-fest?
Well the simple answer is both yes and no. The film sees Britain’s previous prime minister Neville Chamberlain still in power. Many within his own party (if you didn’t know it you could easily predict that it’s the Tories) are against going to war as they believe they’d loose and instead want to come to a settlement with Adolf Hitler. The film, for the most part is actually different from that which you might have come to expect. It shows the internal debates and wrangling’s among the cabinet over what to do over the crises in Europe. It might not have been director director Joe Wright’s primary intention, but given that this film was made two years after the British made one of the worst political decisions in history, as a viewer, you begin to wonder if the entire history of the Tory party isn’t riddled with arguments over what to do in regard to Europe. On the other hand this could easily be viewed as Wright’s reaction to more contemporary events.
Whatever the intention over the politics, the acting involved is certainly boasting a wealth of talents. Ronald Pickup, who many might know from films such as The Mission from 1986, as well as a string of iconic TV roles, is excellent as the ailing Neville Chamberlain who, along with what remaining allies he has, half heartedly schemes to thwart Churchill’s rise to power. Also giving an excellent supporting performance (in more ways than one) is Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI, who is portrayed as playing a supporting role in helping Churchill towards his final decision.
And what of Gary Oldman you might ask. He did after all receive a wide variety of plaudits for this performance including a BAFTA for best Actor in a leading role, and of course an Oscar in the same category. Well the answer is that it’s good, it’s just not outstandingly Oscar worthy good. The first good element that is good is, as you would imagine in appearance. It would be imaginable however that this is more down to good use of makeup and wardrobe by the relevant departments. On it’s own Oldman’s performance is good. Churchill, far from the assured iconic figure that he’s become known for, is filled with doubt and hesitation, one particular scene sticks out, where Britain’s war leader is seen desperately phoning friends in America (yes the president of course) for some sort of help from a country who, at the time was still neutral. Scenes like this were perhaps the highlight rather than a self assuring scene on the London underground among “his people”, a scene which seems more apt for a Superman movie than one about a mortal war time leader of a European country. The film also fundamentally, aside from a few minor references, fails to explore Churchill’s more questionable character reference points.
On the whole Darkest Hour is an enjoyable, watchable movie. It is however, this particular reviewer fears, one to be watched on special occasions only and, coming from a director whose past work, such as Pride and Prejudice Anna Karenina and Atonement, all of which are visual masterpieces, falls short in comparison.