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‘Darkest Hour’ (review by Sharon Knolle)

Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, James Biddle,
Katherine Keating, Anthony McCarten,
Lisa Bruce,
Douglas Urbanski, Lucas Webb
Written by Anthony McCarten
Directed by Joe Wright
Starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas,
Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn,
Ronald Pickup,
Lily James, Samuel West 

To play Winston Churchill, Gary Oldman is swaddled in layers of padding and makeup but the actor still shines through to give an award-worthy performance as the famous Prime Minister who led England through World War II. (The makeup will surely be up for numerous awards as well.)

We’ve already heard Churchill’s historic speech — “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender” — earlier this year in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

It’s rousing rhetoric that remains one of the most eloquent and stirring public speeches of all time and it certainly makes for a “stand up and cheer” moment in the film.

But the majority of the film is a quiet affair, consisting mainly of meetings and political maneuvering, much like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

The film begins with Churchill anxiously awaiting news that he might be named the next Prime Minister. The appeasement policies of the current one, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) have grown increasingly unpopular. History, of course, has nothing kind to say about Chamberlain or his attempts to make peace with Hitler.

That such a thing was even contemplated — a peace treaty with the Nazis! — now seems laughable, but that is the crisis Churchill finds himself in. Beset with political enemies at home and nonexistent support from the Americans, his efforts to wage war are being undermined at every turn.

It’s rather shocking to see that, at one point, he was seriously considering coming to terms with Hitler. When he finally snaps and roars at his chief adversary  Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), roaring that “one cannot reason with a lion when your head in its mouth!” it’s a great scene that will surely be Oldman’s Oscar clip.

Coming as it does after Dunkirk, the battles fought in the political sphere can’t help but pale in comparison. But Oldman makes the film: His performance is likely the one to beat this year for Best Actor. And seeing the growing support for resistance to the Nazis is always a damn good thing.

Also very good in the film: Kristin Scott Thomas as his supportive wife, who has long since made terms with being married to a politician; and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI, a stiff regent who resents having to appoint Churchill but finds himself warming up to the blustery fellow. Lily James is sympathetic, if not particularly memorable, as Churchill’s secretary.

 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 

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