Joe Wright directs Darkest Hour based on the life of Winston Churchill

By Nick Stolte || Contributing Writer

Darkest Hour is a competently made “Oscar Bait” film following Winston Churchill during his accession to Prime Minister at the most harrowing time for the British Isles in the Second World War. When the film focuses on the desperation of Churchill and his British Empire, it is about as good as any film of 2017. Sadly, the film gets bogged down in procedural politics, and falls into many of the biopic conventions that cannot match the prowess of the rest of the movie. Gary Oldman’s performance as the iconic Prime Minister is rousing, and his Oscar nomination is well deserved. Every moment Oldman is on screen the film soars, and yet his inspiring performance is not enough to help Joe Wright’s film to transcend the biopic genre. At times the film descends into conventional tropes all too familiar of an Oscar season film, and a once scene in particular would have been laughably bad if not for Oldman’s instant classic of a performance.

Joe Wright’s greatest contribution as director is recognizing that Darkest Hour is first and foremost, a vehicle to remind the world that Gary Oldman is one of the greatest living actors. When the film focuses on Churchill’s supreme “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat” and “We shall fight on the beaches” speeches Oldman is the spitting image and voice of one of the most important men in the history of the modern world. However, the film takes an interest in the conflict within Churchill’s cabinet, as the infamous appeaser Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and his crony Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) seek to undermine the Prime Minister. Here the film becomes conventional, and at times boring. Using Chamberlain and Halifax as villains at a time when the Nazis were on the cusp of total European domination is confounding, and this conflict is never as compelling as Great Britain’s struggle against the Werchmant. At this point, the United Kingdom stands alone against Hitler, and their defeat seems assured. A particularly poignant scene shows Churchill pleading with President Franklin Roosevelt for assistance at this desperate time, and Oldman forces you to feel the fear and abandonment Churchill felt during these trying days. To Wright’s credit, the scene is expertly shot, and the cinematography compliments Churchill’s isolation in a creative and effective way.

Darkest Hour is quite good, though it does not match the quality of many other Best Picture nominees. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk covers similar territory in a much more stimulating fashion, and that masterpiece has a much better shot at taken home the Oscar than Joe Wright’s. However, Gary Oldman is simply excellent, and any other actor would be foolish to take the role of Churchill for the next generation. He is as instantly iconic as Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln, and though Oldman has been snubbed many times throughout his illustrious career, it would be a stunning shock to see any other man take home the Best Actor Oscar this February.

Junior Nick Stolte is a contributing writer. His email is nstolte@fandm.edu.

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