The Oldman Show
Oldman is a force of nature here, appearing in virtually every scene and, consequently, stealing each as a matter of course. What starts out feeling like a showy awards grab (historical-based character played by famous face, acted with quirks, ticks, tantrums, with a monologue or two thrown in for good measure) gives way to something altogether more nuanced when we see the Prime Minister make a desperate telephone call to U.S. President Harry S. Truman. At that point, Oldman ceases to perform and simply disappears into the role – we’re not watching someone acting as Churchill, we’re watching Churchill himself, carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders, and it is extraordinary.
Light and Shadow
We’ve seen London at wartime in films before, its streets and buildings generally depicted in drab, depressing tones matching the perceived public mood. Rarely have these locales been photographed in such a quietly beautiful way. As lensed by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bruno Delbonell (Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), the film is packed with stunning shots. From something as simple as an elevator ride to illuminating the flat interior of Parliament with a single light source, Delbonell masterfully uses contrasts and ostensibly drab colors to fill Darkest Hour with stark, beautiful visuals.
The Women Behind the Man
Near the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Elizabeth Layton (Lily James, of last year’s Baby Driver), who will serve as Churchill’s new secretary and de facto confidante. As the film goes on, and the global conflict escalates, Layton’s learns to expertly handle her boss’s tantrums and eccentricities, providing a sounding board to the man expected to save the Empire.
Appearing in fewer scenes, but no less important in keeping Churchill grounded, is his wife, Clementine, played here by Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) as a lady who shares her husband’s dedication to duty, having come to terms with her husband’s aspirations a long time ago. Thomas is excellent at presenting duty-bound dignity, proving the perfect counter to Oldman’s mercurial character.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the oratory arts should be familiar with this speech, wherein Churchill, low on options and allies, defiantly declares the United Kingdom’s intention to stand against the Nazis, no matter the cost. While things could have turned out very differently if the Americans hadn’t joined the fray the following year, the moment the speech comes into play is undeniably effective in conveying to the audience just why Churchill is still discussed and debated on in the present day.
At the center of it all is Oldman, embodying the sort of verve and conviction current world leaders can only dream of. Finding the strength to carry on in the will of his people, Oldman as Churchill is a leader you very well believe could spur a nation into action.
We should be so lucky.
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