Darkest Hour puts the first few weeks of Winston Churchill’s time as Prime Minister under a microscope. It is May 1940, and England’s politics are shaky as Neville Chamberlain is voted out as Prime Minister. Churchill is not the first choice, and has his political enemies, but is appointed next. With the fall of France, it looks as though Hitler and his Nazi army will take over all of Europe. Just across the channel, the entire British army is stranded at Dunkirk and surrounded by the invading German army. If nothing is done, the British army will be completely lost within days. Meanwhile, Churchill’s advisers are pushing for him to surrender to Hitler and attempt to negotiate peace, before it’s too late. How will Churchill pull his country up by its bootstraps, save their army and stand up in the face of doom and tyranny?
Gary Oldman becomes completely immersed in his transformation into Winston Churchill. The flawless makeup done on him makes Oldman completely unrecognizable, I expect that award to be given easily. But just as impressive is Oldman’s acting, fleshing out Churchill not only as a historical figure, but as a man who seems larger than life at times. The fact that Oldman studied Churchill and his mannerisms over a year to prepare for this role shows his dedication to getting it right. I’ve also heard that he tried not to be influenced by other actor’s portrayals of the man and I think it has worked out well. While Oldman’s performance feels authentic, it is also unique compared to other films and shows about Churchill.
A favorite scene of mine was towards the end when Churchill decides to ride the underground to Parliament. He escapes out of his personal car without his driver noticing and immerses himself within the bustling streets and busy people of London. A young woman helps him navigate the underground map and as he enters the train, a once hum-drum commute is suddenly shaken by his presence. But Churchill doesn’t lord his power and prestige over the people he serves, but rather strikes up conversations with everyone around him. He shakes hands, takes names and asks them all, children included, if they should consider negotiating peace with Hitler, or stand and fight. Thankfully, the people of London are much more influential on Churchill than his advisers.
Darkest Hour is currently nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Gary Oldman is obviously in the running for best actor and favored by many. The other four awards compliment the visual details and appeal within the film: best makeup and hair styling, production design, costume design and cinematography.
While some may worry that Darkest Hour is a dry biopic, I assure you that it is not. Churchill’s gusto and antics keep the film light and human even when depicting such a bleak moment in history. The rich cinematography and attention to detail around the film make it a visual treat. And whether you are a history buff or not, you’ll probably walk away from the film knowing a little more about just how close all of western Europe came to collapse in May 1940.
“Nations which go down fighting rise again, and those that surrender tamely are finished.”