Director: Joe Wright.
This is going to be hard for me to review without referring or comparing to last year’s Churchill, which was a grand piece of cinema from both director Jonathan Teplitzky and actor Brian Cox; myself rating that film with a 8/10. So I’m going to get this part out the way and then review this separately. There’s two elements that struck me when watching this, and that’s the score and the film in it’s entirely. Something I will come back to in detail but whilst this film concentrates on much on the political drama, as does Churchill, it lacks some artistic flair which now, in retrospect might be a criticism of Chruchull. And Lorne Balfe’s score for Churchill is one of my favourite scores of 2017 and beyond, which I think again, portrayed a certain artistry this film lacks. I’m not stating that either are bad here, just noting an observation of comparison.
Now I’ve got that out the way; on to Darkest Hour. Pride & Prejudice and Atonement director, Joe Wright takes the helm of a story covering Churchill’s ascension as Prime Minister, leading up to his famous speech where he addresses parliament and the nation, following the political pressures, opposition and tremendous responsibility Churchill was facing.
I think the key focus here is Oldman’s portrayal which puts everyone and everything else almost out of the picture. It’s undeniably his best performance and whilst I can’t comment of the accuracy, I’ve read that his mannerisms, behaviour, walk and posture, his diction are all on point. Oldman spent a year researching and even gave himself nicotine poisoning due to smoking a tremendous amount of cigars during production.
Obviously the supporting cast do well to perform in Oldman’s shadow but only Mendelsohn’s portrayal of King George VI is the only other performance worth noting. James and Thomas (the leading ladies) equally do good but as mentioned, it isn’t about them.
I probably sounded unfair earlier when saying Wright’s film was lacking some artistic flair but I was I trying to say was that his style, even though very good, there are no scenes that really stand out; apart from maybe the bombings. But it’s mostly shot in close quarters, giving a personal narrative and actually gives the film an authentic realism. Basically the dramatic element is totally put on Oldman’s performance and script.
The production and costume design, including makeup, especially for Oldman appearance is outstanding which undoubtedly deserves the Oscar nominations it’s received, which include Best Costume Design, Production Design and Makeup and Hairstyling. [Edit] winning two of the six nominations for Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Leading Actor for Gary Oldman, a long overdue Oscar in my opinion.
At first, hearing Dario Marianelli’s score I was underwhelmed, maybe expecting something more powerful or even evoking but listening to the score again in isolation I found a new appreciation for it. There appears to be two scores here, one to represent Churchill as he stomps around giving rise to a busy, brain-churning character and the other representing certain scenarios, such as the “The War Rooms” having marching drums and the explosive beats of “The The Air”. It’s quite a tense score with plenty of crescendos that could almost suit a horror film, giving that sense of a sinister threat or rising pressure.
The inaccuracies and blatant distortion purely for dramatic and empathetic effect to show the audience a false characterisation of a famous Briton is somewhat open to criticism. Yes, Churchill was for that time and today still considered the greatest Briton to have ever lived. However there are some scenes that whilst claiming to reach a modern audience does damage to the history and true natural of the great man. Now I don’t mean damaging his character, because it’s quite the opposite where they glorify him way beyond his true self.
It’s sadly because of this, I can’t rate the film higher than what many might expect. It’s almost criminal to fabricate or adjust scenes of history that paint a different image of anyone and not just Churchill. But, that aside, the film is well made and of course Oldman’s performance is him at his upmost best.
Running Time: 9
The Cast: 10
Job Description: 7
The Extra Bonus Point: 0