Is this Winston Churchill biopic a cinematic victory, or a wartime disaster?
As the Nazis wage war on the Allies, Britain finds itself on the back foot against the powerful German forces, and a new, strong leader is called for to lead the nation against its foe — Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). But within days of taking the job as Prime Minister, Churchill is thrown into a turbulent and trialling conflict: negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler and the Nazis, or continue to fight and stand firm with the ideals of the country. And with the Allied forces pushed into Dunkirk, surrounded by the fearsome Nazis, Churchill must rally the people in even its darkest hour.
There’s been a recent surge in biopics about world-changing figures recently, with one of my favourite films even being one — Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s 2015 drama ‘Steve Jobs‘, about the co-founder of Apple. There was even a film about Winston Churchill, simply titled ‘Churchill’ with Brian Cox in the lead, that came out less than a year ago, though not to as compelling reviews as Gary Oldman’s attempt at portraying the war hero.
Because that really is the main draw of this film — Gary Oldman’s superb performance. He produces the lines with such vigour and passion its impossible not to become immersed and believe that this really is Winston Churchill on the screen before you. Coupled with some absolutely excellent prosthetics, that make Oldman almost unrecognisable and gain a lot of attention from director Joe Wright’s use of close-ups, the character is complete.
The film is entirely comprised of dialogue and speeches; there are no gun-slinging, bomb-exploding, aeroplane-flying wartime action sequences in this script (for that, I recommend Christopher Nolan’s epic ‘Dunkirk‘). This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and so the film may seem to drag a little in parts for some, however the conversations are engaging and all the cast — especially Oldman, as mentioned — keep you on the edge of your seat and the tension high as your watching. The tension is also helped along by the score of this film, something I think has been overlooked in a lot of reviews but that I found compelling and good at pushing the narrative forward.]
There was also some really excellent cinematography and camera work in this film, hats-off to Joe Wright again for that. One gripe I did have with the film was that there were quite a few clichés in the plot that usually go with characters of power such as Churchill — he’s a bit self-obsessed until he meets a mass of his people and has his eyes opened to the world and of course mellows. However, for the most part the writing was good, and I especially liked the humour in ‘Darkest Hour’ — its was actually funny! Despite the low age-rating, ‘Darkest Hour’ isn’t a children’s film, and so there’s no slapstick, cheesy crude jokes forced into the script for mass audience-appeal. Instead, the jokes were subtle yet got everyone laughing (probably more so than in any comedy I’ve watched at the cinema!) and flowed with the narrative, didn’t feel forced and — most importantly — didn’t detach from the drama and poignancy of the main focus of the plot.
Overall, ‘Darkest Hour’ is a very strong biopic of Winston Churchill, with excellent acting and an engaging plot, albeit littered with clichés. For that, this film deserves an eight-out-of-ten.