director: Joe Wright
writer: Anthony McCarten
starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn and Kristin Scott Thomas
genre: Biopic | Drama | History
released: 22 December 2017 (USA), 11 January 2018 (Australia), 18 January 2018 (Germany & Greece)
The past two years it's been Winston Churchill fever with the amount of film & TV representations that have existed for this incredible historical figure by a number of outstanding actors, all providing different interpretations and from different points in history. For one reason or another this is the one (Darkest Hour) that garnered the most attention and not totally undeserved I may add.
Right before the surrender of France to Nazi Germany during WWII, the United Kingdom was facing an internal struggle on the capability of its prime minister Neville Chamberlain to act as a wartime leader. The parliament unhappy with his duties wanted someone else to lead the way and the only one acceptable and willing to take the job was Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). A man willing to fight for his country to the very end against the tyrannical fascists who wanted to rule over Europe. However, before he could effectively do so, he had to weed out his internal competition and the forces within the UK government that wanted peace with the Nazis, instead of fighting to the very end for true freedom.
Seeing the film its easy to make the recommendation of this being a great double feature with 'Dunkirk' before or after it (after it maybe better). It fits perfectly in giving the backdrop to the events that developed during that evacuation and also largely on Winston Churchill's duties during his first months as prime minister of the U.K. Showing in great detail the political in fighting, the bickering between country men with different visions for the future of their country and of Europe, while also a public unaware of the real dangers that faced them ahead.
More than anything this film is the talk of the town for Gary Oldman's performance as Churchill, but it shouldn't overshadow how good the film is overall with the stellar cast that it has and the production level that is outstanding. Also, it must be mentioned that its good to see Joe Wright back to directing some attractive material after his 'Peter Pan' debacle. As the man has talent ever since his first film in 'Pride and Prejudice' and I personally believe he has a long career ahead of him, but should pace himself at times.
One instance of his need to pace himself is where he went too far with his screenwriter in regards to the overall portrayal of Winston Churchill as a historical figure in the film. Something of which I wont go into huge depths about, but wasn't entirely accurate and believe was mostly changed for narrative and character reasons rather than political or sinister ones as some political commentators and reviewers have pointed out. Winston Churchill at times in the film is portrayed to be a little bit of a dullish old man and unprepared for the role of Prime Minister, when the man had all the years experience in the world to thrive in such a role. Also, his acceptance in the film for a peace deal is not exactly how it went down in real life with Churchill never having been so week in his discussions with his War Cabinet. Not to mention how the underground/metro scene where he met British citizens and spoke to them about the war and got courage from them was completely fake and a typical cliched movie moment. As if Winston Churchill the man himself couldn't have had the courage alone to fight the Nazis and push the UK to keep the war going. Giving maybe the greatest speech in his career to parliament that lasted almost 30 minutes in real life and not the mere few minutes in the film and that was also inter cut unnecessarily with shots of his wife that we will be mentioned again later in the review.
Nonetheless, these sort of changes in biopics/historical films are to be expected. Although, not to the extent of changing the character for the worse. Thankfully, Gary Oldman still rises to the occasion to provide an exceptional performance showing Winston Churchill to be a man of the people and putting himself front and center to defend British liberty and sovereignty above all costs. Gary Oldman who had always been a believed actor of the acting community and audiences may finally get that Oscar for all his years of service. As his Churchill has many layers to him even though many of them might not even have existed. In addition, his Churchill has a more nasally voice which is noticeable in the beginning of the film and not as I always say a deal breaker, but worth mentioning.
Moreover, the film does a good job at placing around him supporting characters to play off against and garner support or act as villainous counterparts. With Chamberlain and Haskill being the antagonizers, pushing Churchill and the country down the path of appeasement. On the other hand his family, the king and secretary being his moral and emotional support. However, the one insistence though that I'm not sure on the filmmakers intention was the inclusion of his wife towards the end of the film. She has a couple of moments on her own which counter play to the more important moments of the film where the country is deciding to keep the war going and the film chooses to focus on her struggle as a wife. When the film was never about that and we already got the hint that she had to sacrifice elements of their marriage for his public servitude. It seemed out of place and also was never resolved at the end.
A tour de force performance from Oldman is enough to warrant this film's universal acclaim. Time will tell if his 'Churchill' will be the best of them all, but by the looks of it will be the one that everyone will remember. The film despite of its minor historical inaccuracies and portrayal of Churchill as a slightly weaker figure still doesn't destroy the man or radically change history as we know it. Its a twist on it that we may not agree with it, but at least accept as some good cinematic entertainment about fighting for your country to the very end and to never surrender. As appeasement of dictators is the cowards way and there is maybe no one better in history to teach us that lesson then the loud, brandy drinking and cigar smoking great Winston Churchill.