Gary Oldman Becomes Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour

Abdul Aziz takes a look at Gary Oldman’s latest outing in Darkest Hour as he plays former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

One man is responsible for the success of the Darkest Hour – a movie about Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain at the precipice of World War II and the trials he faces following his election. That man is Gary Oldman.

Already regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation, with numerous outstanding performances under his belt, Oldman out does himself in this role.

He is Churchill for the entire two hours and five minutes of this movie and imbues the character with pathos, vulnerability and strength, bringing to life an historical figure like never before. With help of expert prosthetics and some added weight, he even looks the part.

Oldman has earned himself an Academy Award nomination for this portrayal — only his second ever — and enters in to the race as a firm favourite for the Best Actor category.

Oldman aside, the movie is well paced, charting the events of Churchill’s election and how it coincided with a vital moment for Britain during World War II- all of which is historically accurate. Should the country negotiate a peace treaty with Nazi Germany and hand over their power to Hitler? Or should they take the more ethical stance of standing firm and fighting for their ideals but risking the live of thousands of British soldiers?

“He is Churchill for the entire two hours and five minutes of this movie”

It was a dilemma Churchill faced days after being elected, and given the internal politics at play in the British cabinet, was one, which was far from an easy decision.

We, the audience see his growing panic, as some of  Cabinet members attempt to oust him from his position.

Chief amongst them is Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary played by Stephen Dilliane, who argues for negotiation of a peace treaty with Mussolini – but has his own interests at heart. He’s hoping to oust Churchill with a view to becoming Prime Minister himself.

He influences Neville Chamberlain, played by played Ronald Pickup, the deposed premier, who resents Churchill taking his place.

The two together hatch a plan to depose Churchill, at a time when he is under extreme pressure to protect the welfare of Great Britain anyway. Churchill remains strong in his convictions despite his lack of support, and tense relationship he has with King George VI.

His wife, Clemmie Churchill (Kristin Scott Thomas) remains a backbone of support throughout his ordeal, and at his lowest moments picks him up. There are a number of touching scenes between the couple, which highlight not only their good relationship but also Churchill’s very odd character and his vulnerability – making him all the more loveable.

At the hands of director Joe Wright, the film cannot be faulted in terms of cinematography with each shot perfectly executed. It uses light effectively and brings to life the oak-paneled Westminster boardrooms and narrow tunnels of the War cabinet with camera work that makes the audience feel as if we were there with Churchill himself.

There’s a hazy quality to the scenes throughout and a heavy dependence on smoke, but this was a era when almost everyone smoked, including Churchill who rarely had a cigar out of his hand.

Some have faulted it’s almost stereo depiction of Britain at the time, with references to spotted dick and English fry-ups and one particular scene where Churchill decides to embark on a tube journey for the first time in his life talking to members of the public and asking their opinion on whether Britain should continue to fight against Germany.

But overall the film is well worth watching. We are used to seeing World War II being fought from the battlefields and this shows a different side to it – with both an internal and an external battle at play for Churchill.

Ultimately his victory – on both counts- is uplifting and for that reason it’s a feel good movie and one should not be missed.
Darkest Hour is out now in cinemas across Ireland.

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