Movie review: In ‘Darkest Hour’ Gary Oldman conjures wildly eccentric but believable Churchill

Kristin Scott Thomas and Gary Oldman star as Clementine and Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright's “Darkest Hour.” (Jack English/FocusFeatures)

From its grab-for-the-gusto performance by Gary Oldman to its showy direction by Joe Wright, “Darkest Hour” is an energetic piece of work. The lean and hungry Oldman seems an unlikely choice to play the rotund, jowly Winston Churchill, even though he’s one of Britain’s top actors and has portrayed all manner of historic figures from Sid Vicious to Lee Harvey Oswald.

But helped by the wizardly contribution of the Oscar-nominated makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji, Oldman’s brassy presentation gives us the sense of the flesh and blood person behind the bulldog-fierce political leader who presided over Britain’s celebrated role in World War II.

Only those who knew Churchill can say whether Oldman’s performance is an accurate representation of what he was like behind the scenes, but as a portrait of a wildly eccentric, believable human being, it succeeds.

Wright is known for jazzing up such staid literary classics as “Pride and Prejudice” and “Anna Karenina” (both starring Keira Knightley), and he certainly knows how to handle a moving camera. Collaborating with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (“Amélie,” “Inside Llewyn Davis”), he deploys overhead shots, elaborate tracking sequences, dramatic chiaroscuro lighting and more to ensure there are no dull moments.

But his high-energy style sometimes suggests the film is trying too hard and unnecessarily hyping what is an innately involving story. The same could said of Oldman’s performance, though the more we see of it, the more convincing it becomes.

As the actor rips into Churchill’s celebrated speeches, from “blood, toil, tears and sweat” to “we shall fight on the beaches,” we feel the drama intensify as we come nearer to the attempt to evacuate the British troops stranded in Dunkirk, France, after a failed invasion of that Nazi-occupied country.

Though the evacuation is the climax of the film, set in May and June of 1940 during Churchill’s first weeks as prime minister, the focus is more on how he came of age in the job than the operation itself.

As Parliament grows vocally weary of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, best known today for fruitlessly seeking “peace in our time,” Churchill is tapped to succeed him because he is the only candidate the opposition will support.

Among the dubious is King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), who comments that Churchill’s “record is a litany of catastrophe.” Even Churchill himself, at age 65, worries that he is too old for a job he has wanted since childhood, and fears he’s being offered it only

Source:: East Bay – Entertainment

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