REVIEW: 'Darkest Hour' Has Its Flaws, But Is Educational, Exciting

Updated January 10, 2018 18:00:36

Actor Gary Oldman with prosthetic make-up as Winston Churchill, wearing a bow-tie and holding a cigar.>> Photo: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)

>Map: Australia

Gary Oldman has already won a Golden Globe for his performance as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright's Darkest Hour, and he could very well go all the way to Oscars glory in the coming months.

He displays astonishing range, exactly what's needed in a film that conveys the power of a formidable parliamentarian, while also pulling back the curtain to reveal significant vulnerabilities.

Set on the eve of the allied evacuation of Dunkirk — a chapter of the war featured in Wright's 2007 film Atonement — the film centres on three key speeches, culminating in the defiant "fight them on the beaches" address.

Churchill is depicted as a mercurial man prone to crippling self-doubt, but driven by an impassioned belief in the anti-fascist cause.

This puts him at odds with dissenters in his own party, who seek to strike a deal with Hitler — notably Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, played with starchy resentment by Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane.

Elsewhere, the supporting cast includes Kristen Scott Thomas as Churchill's supportive wife Clemmie and most forthright critic, and Ben Mendelsohn, popping up as an inspired choice as the circumspect King George.

A scene from Darkest Hour with Winston Churchill holding up a two fingered peace salute in front of a crowd of cheering men.>> Photo: Oldman won Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes for Darkest Hour. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)

>We asked if you were looking forward to seeing Oldman's portrayal of Churchill. Read the discussion below.

The script is by Anthony McCarten, who wrote the recent Steven Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, which means the lever-pulling is fairly straightforward.

There are heated arguments in the war room, tender exchanges with Clemmie in the bedroom, a few horrific vignettes of battlefield carnage and the inevitable moment when the pretty, cardigan-clad secretary (Lily James) breaks through Churchill's hard shell to trigger an important realisation.

The film's artistic license should have stopped there, before a scene where Churchill goes looking for inspiration on the London underground and encounters the simple wisdom of the British people. Mostly though, the contrivances work.

Wright is a filmmaker who can almost make you forget you've seen it all before, and his exceptional camerawork — including various crane shots inside parliament, and an aerial view of a battlefield that transforms into flecks of dirt on a soldier's face — is exciting, if not always subtle.

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External Link: The trailer for Darkest Hour.

Wright is well served by Inside Llewyn Davis cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who captures a sense of the feeble British sunlight and nocturnal gloom, but still manages to deliver the kind of high contrast, chiaroscuro film lighting that has become commonplace in Hollywood prestige cinema.

Meanwhile, Atonement composer Dario Marianelli's effective orchestral score leads you by the nose and nudges you playfully.

The film is carried by Oldman, of course, who can now add Churchill to his career gallery of real life characters that includes Sid Vicious, Beethoven and Lee Harvey Oswald.

I sat two rows from the front in a big screen theatre and I could not see a flaw in the work of Japanese makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji, who Oldman lured out of retirement for the job (he has since become a full-time visual artist).

With seamless prosthetics, Oldman is corpulent and pasty, and most memorable when he's in a state of undress.

Conducting business from his bed, something Churchill apparently did often, his flabby frame is barely concealed by a silk gown and a whiskey-laden breakfast tray.

A scene from Darkest Hour where Winston Churchill smokes a cigar in his office while a secretary watches on.>> Photo: Darkest Hour attempts to show Churchill's vulnerabilities and eccentricities. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)

The film deliberately highlights this coarse, almost vulgar side to the man, as if proof of his shambolic genius and artistic temperament.

It's an integral part of the characterisation, but at times it's a slightly misguided attempt at light relief.

Watching his secretary nervously avert her gaze, a gesture played for laughs, you're of course reminded of the fine line between boss and harasser, which feels even finer since the advent of the Trump presidency and the recent showbusiness scandals.

It would be ridiculous to sanitise Churchill by turning him into a model employer by today's standards, but the way the film frames the relationship between this often boorish, eccentric older man and his much younger, blushing assistant is often too cute for its own good.

It's not enough to undo the significant achievement of Wright and Oldman, however, who have fashioned a portrait full of texture and emotion.

They've gone all out to present this iconic figure in all of his eccentricities, and mostly they've achieved vivid, entertaining results. Not a 'stable genius' (to borrow Trump's term).

But who would want to see a movie about that?

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, film-movies, world-war-2, history, australia

First posted January 10, 2018 13:24:24

Source : http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-10/darkest-hour-gary-oldman-is-a-triumph-as-winston-churchill/9315180

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