One part biopic, one part historical fiction, Darkest Hour is engaging from beginning to end, held together by Oldman’s performance as one of history’s most celebrated and contentious figures. Coincidentally, Darkest Hour makes for a great double bill with last year’s Dunkirk, whose events take place concurrent with this film’s narrative. Where that film showed the British attempting to hold out against the advancing Germans long enough to evacuate from France, Darkest Hour shows what was happening on the British home front.
Here are 8 reasons to watch Darkest Hour.
In Darkest Hour, Oldman plays former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in May of 1940, having ascended to the premiership at the request of then-King George (the future Queen Elizabeth’s father, played by Rogue One’s Ben Mendehlson). Churchill’s predecessor was Neville Chamberlain, who had elected to resign in disgrace following his disastrous attempts to appease an increasingly aggressive Germany. With neighboring nations falling one after another to the Nazi military machine, and the United States yet to commit to what was (at the time) seen as a purely European conflict, Churchill had the unenviable task of steering his country through troubled times, indeed.
The Word War
Unlike many war films, the battles in Darkest Hour are fought with words, delivered in blistering closed-door meetings and brutal under-the-table deals. Lack of gunfire and bomb strikes notwithstanding, the halls of government reveal themselves to be as treacherous as any battlefield. With alliances shifting at a moment’s notice and betrayals ready to strike at any opening, Darkest Hour may be a talky movie, but it’s never boring.
Gary Oldman as Actor
As far as performers go, Gary Oldman will probably go down as one of the best all-around actors of his generation. While he probably won’t be cast in a lead romantic role anytime soon, his career is probably best summed up by the fact that he’s never allowed himself to become shoehorned in any single type of role. For instance, after making waves in the 80s as a successful theater actor, Oldman entered the 90s as one of cinema’s go-to bad guys, memorably making heroes’ lives miserable in The Professional, True Romance, The Fifth Element, Lost in Space, Air Force One, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Entering the 2000’s, he transitioned into pop culture’s favorite benevolent dead uncle since Peter Parker’s as Harry Potter’s Sirius Black before cementing himself in geeks’ good graces as Batman’s Commissioner Gordon. Continuing on as a good guy, he put in a critically acclaimed turn as author John LeCarré’s spymaster George Smiley in Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy before going full baddie again in 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill
Vacillations between good and evil turns notwithstanding, Oldman has played his share of real life characters as well, with acclaimed performances as Sid Vicious (Sid and Nancy, 1986), Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK, 1991), and Ludwig Von Beethoven (Immortal Beloved, 1994).
Whether he’s playing real people or fictional characters, Oldman’s ability to bring credible life to damaged characters is remarkable. For his Oscar-nominated turn in Darkest Hour, Oldman puts all of his not-inconsiderable skill to the test as former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Despite being buried beneath layers of prosthetic makeup, Oldman convincingly conveys Churchill’s intelligence, intensity, and audacity.