Darkest Hour

Year: 2017
Studio: Focus Features
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kirstin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, David Strathairn

You've got to keep the talent in this film in mind when considering it. Gary Oldman is unarguably a great actor and always has been, but he's picked a lot of turkeys. That can't help but take some of the prestige sheen off Darkest Hour despite the sublime performance and make-up. It does just go to show that Oldman has lost none of his skill when aided by the best of the filmmaking crafts (script, make-up, etc), however.

It's 1940 and Hitler has already started taking over Europe. There are those in the British government who think the UK should adopt a stance of appeasement and negotiation to save the Empire, including moderate PM Neville Chamberlain, but when confidence in his leadership crumbles, it's time to adopt a new man to lead the country forward.

The choice the party faces is Lord Halifax or the firebrand former military commander Churchill (Oldman, looking as close to the real Churchill as you've ever seen in a movie). With Halifax turning the post down because he feels he can pull strings more effectively from the shadows as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Churchill is cast into the stormy waters of a parliament teetering on the brink of war.

On one side he has a hostile government and (initially) King in George V (Ben Mendelsohn) after Churchill's support of the scandalous royal abdication years before, and on the other he has his only real supporters, his loving but no nonsense wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the secretary who bears the brunt of Churchill's famous temper and workplace foibles but proves more durable and important than she looks (Lily James).

With little help from his allies, tens of thousands of his soldiers stranded at Dunkirk and beset by enemies within, Churchill is portrayed not as the confident, brazen statesman history remembers. The point of the script by Anthony McCarten seems to be to remind us that for all his bluster and all the iconography he was a man as crippled by doubt, self doubt and fear as any of us would be with the weight of the future of a country on our shoulders.

It comes across exactly how it looks – smoky, dusty, full of stately rooms, costuming and set design that effectively depict the time and place (watch out for a single bum note as the 40's era tube train races past behind Oldman as he stands on the platform – it's the worst CGI you've seen in ages).

But it's Oldman's stage and platform, and if you appreciate the old style arts of performing as a character aided by costuming and make-up, it will remind you why Oldman is a star even after the scenery he's chewed in his career.

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