Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour (Joe Wright, 2017) Gary Oldman (Winston Churchill), Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn; nomination for Best Actor Oscar: Gary Oldman; 6 nominations

During the early days of World War II [May-June 1940], the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.

If you'd told me in 1996 when Idiot Box was released, or in 2000 with Sample People, or 2001, with Mullet, and above all in 2010, when Animal Kingdom came out, with Ben Mendelsohn superb as a loser, small-time career criminal, that Mendo would get to play the King of England in 2017, I would have lolled. I think Ben would have too. But here he is doing quite a plausible representation of Geo VI - tho HRH his daughter would almost certainly disagree.

Oh, and there's this other guy, a Londoner, in the part of the PM. Unfortunately for my estimation of Oldman, I happen to live three doors from an actor who has recently played Churchill in a stage play. I worked with James Hagan on my front veradah reading in lines for him as he prepared for the role, and I have to say that I could believe that I was in the presence of Churchill himself when James was six feet away, with no (four-hour) makeup on: just acting - mostly with his amazing voice.

That digression is my self-disqualification for commenting on Oldman's performance - which is pretty much the point of the film's existing. It's one of those specific acting exercises - which has been carried out by Robert Hardy, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Brendan Gleeson, and so on. Churchill created himself to some extent: the V sign, the cigar, the elocution, and it's not surprising that it's a recurrent challenge to re-create him.

Oldman ensures that every line hits home as surely as any bullet. It’s a towering performance which wavers only in one slightly contrived scene.

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 27 January, 2018 | Now: 25 July, 2018