By Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Writer
In an Oscar season where over half the nominees are period pieces, it’s interesting to see the parallel storylines established between Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and that of this, Joe Wright’s retelling of the tense days of World War II as England faced the threat of Nazi annexation while major european countries had already been occupied.
While the former busies itself with showcasing the bravery of every day Brits venturing across the English Channel to rescue stranded soldiers on the Northern French beachfront, Darkest Hour focuses on the tumultuous period within the Parliament in 1940.
Hitler and his forces are gaining ground, having annexed Poland, Luxenbourg, the Netherlands and Belgium. With his sights set on England next, Parliament feels that sitting Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) has been too soft in his response to the moounting Nazi threat.
When it becomes clear that Chamberlain’s logical successor Viscount Halifax (Game of Thrones’ Stephen Dillane) isn’t quite so keen to take over during wartime, a decision is made to offer the role to the one politician all parties may settle on: Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman.)
Despite reservations about his taking on the role due to his controversial record from the previous war, Churchill is nevertheless determined to address the Nazi threat with renewed resolve and purpose, while members of his cabinet prefer to negotiate peace with the Fuhrer.
Seeing this as foolhardy, Churchill insists on the rallying of his military forces (including an ingenious idea to recruit civil boats to rescue the bulk of his manpower from Dunkirk) given that occupation would signify the end of British life as they know it.
(I could quote his famous speech here, but I prefer to let viewers experience the full intensity of Oldman’s performance as they watch the film.)
Whilst this period in English history has been covered and revisited ad nauseum by filmmakers and documentarians galore, Gary Oldman must be seen to be believed. Using his chameleonic ability to change his accent and demeanor (not unlike a British DeNiro, if you will), the actor steals virtually every scene he’s in with his volcanic performance, not to mention the maddeningly intricate makeup effects applied by way of copious latex prosthetics.
His interactions are so intense that the supporting cast, while capable in their own right, are eclipsed by the diminutive actor turned portly statesman. Kristen Scott Thomas and Lily James, as Churchill’s wife and secretary, respectively, offer a much needed contrast of reason and humulity compared to the no-nonsense politician they try to reign in.
Stephen Dillane offers a worthy foil as Viscount Halifax, whilst Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) steps in as King George VI.