One of the movies that left the biggest impressions on me last year was Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.
The movie about the miraculous evacuation of 30,000 British troops from Dunkirk during World War II, left me curious to know more about the circumstances that led to that bleak scenario.
That curiosity led me to watch Darkest Hour, which revolves around the man who oversaw the miracle of Dunkirk, but also led Britain to victory through arguably its darkest hour in history – former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman).
Set in 1940, when Hitler and his Nazis were steam-rolling their way through Western Europe during World War II, Darkest Hour charts Churchill’s path to greatness: From being an unpopular candidate to succeed Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) as PM, to inspiring his government and people to stand and defend Britain from invasion.
Churchill not only has to grapple with the potential decimation of his troops at Dunkirk and the impending invasion of Hitler from across the English Channel, he also has to do battle with dissenting voices within his own government, mainly from Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane).
We shall fight in the beaches, we shall fight in the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.
As expected, the events at Dunkirk play a role in the plot as well, though for the most part, the spotlight is firmly on Churchill – the decisions he had to make, and the famous speeches he gave, including the one quoted above.
Much has been said about Oldman’s performance, and rightly so. The actor has been sweeping all the major Best Actor awards of late, and it almost seems inevitable that he will be named Best Actor at March’s Academy Awards as well.
Make no mistake about it, Oldman’s performance is a masterful one. Barely recognisable under heavy makeup, he still manages to turn in a powerful portrayal of one of Britian’s most celebrated yet divisive leaders.
His Churchill is equal parts arrogant and humble, and visibly weighed down by the burdens of having to lead Britain through one of the most difficult periods in its history.
Opposite Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas brings an elegant gravitas to her portrayal of Churchill’s supportive but exasperated wife Clementine; while Lily James plays his personal secretary Elizabeth Layton.
While much of the film involves a lot of talking, negotiating, and speeches, it is to director Joe Wright’s credit that it keeps you captivated almost throughout the entire 125 minute runtime.
Oldman’s performance alone is enough to captivate you, but Wright also throws in some visual flourishes and small light-hearted details that help to alleviate the overall atmosphere of tension that permeates throughout the movie.
The political scheming, the war-time strategising, the rousing speeches… all these come together to form a surprisingly thrilling movie that never once feels boring or too heavy, capped by a tremendous performance by an actor at the peak of his powers.
After the high-tension battles of Nolan’s Dunkirk, Darkest Hour gives us a fascinating look at another side of that turbulent period of time, and my curiosity is piqued once again.
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, and Ronald Pickup