Film Review: Darkest Hour

Updated on January 1, 2018
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Review written by: Josh Kristianto, Film Frenzy Contributing Writer.

Background

In 2017, Joe Wright released Darkest Hour, based on British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s first months in office. Starring Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane, Hannah Steele, and Ronald Pickup, the film has grossed a domestic total of $12.6 million as of December 28.

Synopsis

In May 1940, the ferocious and whimsical Winston Churchill ascends to the role of prime minister of Great Britain as Nazi armies sweep across Western Europe, putting the British Isles at risk of the same fate. Facing a potential German invasion along with brewing opposition from within his own cabinet, Churchill’s greatest test may come from his own doubts. He sets out on a course leading him to eventually save his own country and liberate the continent of tyranny.

Review

Darkest Hour finds its success chiefly in a definitive performance by Gary Oldman as the embattled leader of Britain. The mannerisms, the look, the sound of Churchill, all found true form and more thanks to Oldman’s exceptional ability. The actor infuses a real humanity into his portrayal, amending what legend tends to forget about Churchill: he was flawed, unkind, and even fearful. It is through Oldman’s steady hand the audience is given a delightful and moving portrait, full of every indelible mark a real artist gives to its art. The end result is nothing short of infectious.

The film is very much a political drama as it is a biopic and while it does not waste any breath spelling out the bigger picture, the plot is wholly dependent on its central character. In trying to show just how much stress Churchill felt during the war, the filmmakers decided to focus on the very first month of his prime ministership, which was roiled by political rivals and the miracle of Dunkirk.

The audience might be overwhelmed by the urgency of the situation if it weren’t for Churchill himself, whom is immediately found to be a jovial, if not slightly eccentric, man. His humor and wit play a central role in the film, providing fascinating insight into how Churchill won over his friends and allies and tore down his rivals. Further, it provides much needed comic relief, none of it trivial in any way, instead adding immense value to the story.

In contrast to his amusing personality, Churchill is also depicted as a man of fierce conviction. The filmmakers utilize striking dialogue throughout the story to create the tense moments that spotlight the British leader’s fabled stubbornness. Through this sincere dialogue, viewers are offered a real look at the man, his frailty and his humanity. Whether it was the poignant moment shared between Churchill and his typist or the blistering shouting matches he had with his challengers, Oldman seemingly poured his soul into every scene breathing life into the character.

The storyline itself sketches what seems like an unending assault against Churchill, both by external and ultimately internal conflicts, and the toll it takes upon the man. Eventually, the sort of emotional and mental trauma a struggle such as this can have on a leader is laid bare. The most powerful moment, and the film’s highest point, comes when Churchill, shouldering the weight of his country’s future and almost at a loss for words, bends to peer pressure to enter negotiations with the Axis Powers despite his own convictions.


Though it succeeds in most of its aspects, the film isn’t flawless. Losing its direction in the last act, the audience might wonder where exactly things are going. Yet, it doesn’t last long. The film distills into a genuine rebirth of Churchill, ending with a final, soaring speech befitting of the leader who used his words to inspire a nation to victory.

5 stars for Darkest Hour

Awards & Recognitions

bold indicates reception of award/recognition

AACTA International Awards

  • Best Lead Actor (Gary Oldman)

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)
  • Best Hair & Makeup
  • Best Score

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)
  • Best Picture

Detroit Film Critic Society

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Drama Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama (Gary Oldman)

Heatland Film

  • Truly Moving Picture Award

Hollywood Film Awards

  • Director of the Year (Joe Wright)
  • Costume Designer of the Year

IGN Summer Movie Awards

  • Best Movie Actor

Indiana Film Journalists Association Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

London Critics Circle Film - ALFS Awards

  • Actor of the Year (Gary Oldman)
  • British/Irish Actor of the Year (Gary Oldman)

New York Film Critics, Online Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

North Texas Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Scott Thomas)
  • Best Director (Joe Wright)

Online Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards

  • Desert Palm Achievement Award - Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

Phoenix Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gary Oldman)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Original Score

San Diego Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

Santa Barbara International Film Festival Awards

  • Modern Master Award (Gary Oldman)

Satellite Awards

  • Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Gary Oldman)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Sound (Editing & Mixing)
  • Best Original Score

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role (Gary Oldman)

Seattle Film Critics Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)
  • Best Costume Design

Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)
  • Best Picture

Toronto Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)

Women Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Actor (Gary Oldman)


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