January 10, 2018

Oldman Channels Churchill in Compelling Documentary Drama

By Kam Williams

Darkest Hour and Dunkirk cover the same period of time, which was Winston Churchill’s (Gary Oldman) first month as prime minister of Great Britain. When he was sworn in on May 10, 1940, the country was at war with Germany which had already conquered most of Europe and was just starting to invade Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.

Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) had unsuccessfully tried a diplomatic policy of appeasement which had only emboldened Hitler. As a result, soon after entering office, Winston found himself facing a daunting task after the Nazis’ blitzkrieg had broken through the Maginot Line. 

Suddenly, the Allied forces were in full retreat, including hundreds of thousands of British soldiers who were being driven to the sea, where they would be sitting ducks for the Luftwaffe.

Dunkirk focused on the evacuation of the troops by an impromptu flotilla of private citizens, whereas Darkest Hour focuses on Churchill’s leadership and oratory skills. After all, it was quite a feat to convince a poorly equipped nation that it could successfully ramp up its defenses to successfully fight the seemingly unstoppable war machine that was practically on its doorstep.

Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), Darkest Hour does a magnificent job of plumbing the depths of Churchill’s psyche as well as recreating a number of his inspirational speeches, concluding with his historic “We shall never surrender!” address delivered to Parliament on June 4th.

Unfortunately, Darkest Hour pales in comparison to the visually captivating Dunkirk. Perhaps the introspective and action-oriented productions should have been spliced together. Nevertheless, Gary Oldman might win an Oscar for his sterling portrayal of the British Bulldog.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for mature themes. Running time: 125 minutes. Production Studio: Working Title Films/Perfect World Pictures. Distributor: Focus Features.