Movie Review: Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman is a shoo-in for an Oscar win. Having already received Golden Globes, British Academy Film, and Screen Actors Guild awards, he is poised to add another statue to his collection.

At first, Oldman didn’t want to play Sir Winston Churchill. He felt that too many great British authors, among them Albert Finney and Brian Fox, had already conquered this role. He also wondered about the heavy makeup and other alterations that would be required.

He needn’t have worried.

His physical transformation—made possible by prosthetics and the expertise of make-up artist Kazuhiro Tsuji—is extraordinary. Add in a heavy, deliberate gait and indistinguishable mumble, and the transformation is complete: Gary Oldman disappears into Sir Winston Churchill.

In a recent interview, Oldman commented: “Churchill was funny as hell…He was leaping around at 65 like he was 20. And he had this cherubic grin on his face, and very often a twinkle in the eye, which you could see even in the old black-and-white.” I was happy to see the lighter side of the curmudgeon emerge in this film.

While Oldman dominates the screen, he is surrounded by an exceptional cast. I was impressed by Kristin Scott-Thomas’s depiction of Clemmie Churchill. Practically minded and unimpressed by her blustering husband, Clemmie takes charge of the household and doesn’t hesitate to reprimand Churchill when he behaves badly. But she also encourages him during challenging times. My favorite line: “You are strong because you are imperfect.”

Ben Mendelsohn delivers an understated but effective portrayal of King George VI. He speaks slowly but doesn’t overplay the King’s speech impediment. His encounters with Churchill provide much of the humor in the film. I couldn’t help chuckling during their first encounter. The king’s awkwardness is evident as he struggles to acknowledge Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister. When the King suggests a weekly meeting at four o’clock in the afternoon, the following conversation takes place:

Churchill: I nap at four.
King: Is that permissible?
Churchill: No, but necessary.

At one of their lunches..

King: How do you manage all this drinking during the day?
Churchill: Practice.

I highly recommend this dramatic and inspiring story of a pivotal period in world history: four weeks in 1940 during which Sir Winston Churchill rallied the British nation and orchestrated the rescue of over 300,000 Allied soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk.


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