All the buzz surrounding Darkest Hour for the last few months has seemed to involve Gary Oldman not looking like Gary Oldman. The makeup work in this film to transform him into Winston Churchill is astounding. It kind of goes without saying that the artists involved in the endeavor to make him look like a completely different person deserve insane recognition, because for most of the film I forgot I was watching Gary Oldman. The actor is no stranger to total transformations like this, but the prosthetics in this film are quite possibly some of the best I’ve ever seen.
Oldman himself is also fantastic in the role. He sells every scene with incredible passion and he disappears into his character, all makeup work aside. Lily James and Ben Mendelsohn are also standouts here in key roles, but they never outshine the true star. It’s made clear early on that Oldman is going to be the center of attention, and he fully embraces that in a few particularly extravagant moments.
I feel I may have benefited from being a bit more of a history buff. Darkest Hour is a film that explores what went on behind the scenes during World War II and Churchill’s early days in office, and at times it seems to rely on the viewer to either pay attention to every detail, or to already know a bit of background. I don’t want to discredit a film for requiring its viewer to pay attention to every line of dialogue, but it did lose me a few times and the pacing suffered because of it. If I had known more going in, I might have been grabbed earlier on in the story.. That’s a fault on my part.
It did find ways to fascinate me, though, and although I don’t know as much as I wish I did about the subject, it invites me to learn more. A few key scenes really amp up the triumphant atmosphere that many political dramas have—the performances and the musical score really support those moments—while other moments bring to light who Winston Churchill was as a person, which are possibly even more impactful. There’s a wonderful scene that takes place in the London Underground that gave us a very personal look into how Churchill interacted with people. The citizens riding the train are fascinated by his presence, and he just speaks to them like he’s known them for a long time.
Darkest Hour is an exploration of an extremely influential man’s life, and we see both sides of that life. We get to be a part of his relationship with his wife and with his personal secretary, and we also get to see how he impacted the United Kingdom and the world after being made Prime Minister. It takes place during the same time as another World War II film from earlier this year, Dunkirk, and it’s an excellent companion piece to that film. In Christopher Nolan’s epic, we get to be a part of the action when the soldiers at Dunkirk are being rescued, and in this biopic directed by Joe Wright we get to see everything behind the scenes that lead to that rescue. Both stories are fascinating in their own ways, and they compliment each other wonderfully.
— Camden McDonald