Review: Darkest Hour not everyone’s cup of tea but an utterly captivating performance from Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman as Sir Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman as Sir Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour - Credit: Archant

From Joe Wright, the British director behind such period dramas as Atonement and Anna Karenina, comes Darkest Hour the true story behind Winston Churchill’s early days as Prime Minister.

With Hitler and his forces cutting a swathe across Europe, Great Britain becomes the next target for Nazi invasion, and with the majority of the British Army stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, prime minister Churchill faces pressure from his cabinet to agree a peace deal with Germany. A deal which would, in effect, signal surrender.

An unrecognisable Gary Oldman stars as the British premier under a plethora of prosthetic make up which brilliantly transform him into the iconic leader.

Considered an embarrassment by some of his peers, Oldman embodies Churchill perfectly. Full of bluster and rarely without his trademark cigar, he hastily dictates speeches to his harassed secretary Miss Layton (Lily James) as he prepares the country for war.

Unlike last year’s Brian Cox film Churchill which painted the Prime Minister in a much less favourable light, this Churchill is full of bravado and more in keeping with the character we know from history books.

However, Joe Wright and script writer Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) also venture bravely into more unfamiliar ground as Churchill begins to suffer a crisis of confidence as the country’s fate weighs heavy on his shoulders.

The film features good supporting performances from Kristen Scott Thomas as supportive wife Clemmy and the excellent Ben Mendelsohn as King George, However they are kept mainly on the periphery of the story as it is left to Oldman to carry the bulk of the film.

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With such heavy subject matter to wade through, Wright does his best to keep things interesting with some inventive directorial framing, but he avoids switching venues to the beaches of Dunkirk, choosing to keep the focus solely on the decision makers behind the scenes.

There are sections of the film that drag somewhat and its slow pace may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However an absolute career best performance from Oldman makes it well worth watching and by the time he delivers the famous Fight them on the beaches speech, many will be punching the air.

Unbelievably, the actor has only previously received one Oscar nomination, but will surely be a front runner for this year’s coveted award.

Overall, Darkest Hour is a dry but interesting study of how close the country came to defeat, lifted to new heights by an utterly captivating performance from Gary Oldman.