Darkest Hour, the latest film for Atonement director Joe Wright is the second Winston Churchill biopic and the third Dunkirk-related film in the last 12 months. This film focuses on Churchill’s tumultuous appointment as Prime Minister, his struggle with his war cabinet and his personal demons in deciding Britain’s course as Europe succumbs to Hitler.
Gary oldman, who looks as much like Gough Whitlan as he does Churchill plays the British Bulldog more quirkily than Brian Cox in last year’s Churchill biopic. He portrays Winnie as a remarkably insightful but impulsive and at times irrational old coot. He also doesn’t paper over Churchill’s less redeeming features such as his scotch guzzling and occasional vile temper. It’s a scenery munching performance but it feels right amid the surreal chaos of a world going to hell.
As good as Oldman is he doesn’t completely overshadow the supporting players with Kristen Scott Thomas reassuring as Churchill immensely tolerant wife Clementine, Ben Mendelssohn giving what could have been a stuffy caricature of king George the 6th nuance and emotional depth and Stephen Dilan wonderfully intense as Churchill’s chief adversary the Viscount Halifax.
Much like Oldman’s over-the-top performance Wright’s direction has a quirky almost surreal quality that some may find too jokey and as in one scene where Churchill rides the underground with the commoners, a little cornball. Many, however, will welcome Wright’s ornate flourishes after the tele-movie blandness of Churchill.
Much like Steven Spielberg’s wonderful Lincoln, this film’s triumph is that it takes what could have been dull policy debates and infuses them with riveting dramatic force. Through the dialogue, Wright and scriptwriter Anthony McCarten add character layers that bring the film close to the depth and complexity of a novel.
Darkest Hour has awkward moments but ultimately provides a powerful and fascinating insight into a divisive but vital character in human history.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2
Director(s): Joe Wright.
Release date: 11th Jan 2017.
Running time: 125 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show