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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 17, 2018

Darkest Hour Movie Review: It Will Be An Injustice If Gary Oldman Would Not Win The Oscar Best Actor Award As Winston Churchill

WE LIKE most of the films of British director Joe Wright, like “Pride and Prejudice” (2005), “Atonement” (2007) and his own version of “Anna Karenina” (2012) with Aaron Taylor Johnson a standout as Count Vronsky. He now tackles historical drama in “Darkest Hour”, an account of Winston Churchill in his early days as British Prime Minister (from May 8 to June 4, 1940, to be exact) during World War II, with Gary Oldman giving the most astonishing performance of his life that could win him his first Oscar.

The movie shows current Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) being forced to resign from his position because nine months into World War II, he’s proving to be inutile. His political party, the Tories, wants to appoint Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) as successor but Halifax turns it down, so they’re forced to appoint Churchill, who is the only one acceptable to the opposition Labour party.

But he is personally disliked by Chamberlain, Halifax and the current King, George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). Churchill then leads Britain through World War and he gets ample support from his strong-willed wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his personal secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).

Chamberlain and Halifax are against Churchill’s strong position on taking on Adolf Hitler’s regime
and refusing peace talks, so early on, they’re planning to force him to resign. When France succumbs to Hitler and the Allied forces retreat from Dunkirk across the English Channel, Chamberlain and the war council pressures Churchill to consider having peace talks with Hitler.

But Churchill refuses to have peace talks or strike a deal with Hitler. He is so determined in his belief that the only way Britain can maintain its freedom is by fighting Hitler and subsequently defeating him. And this is confirmed when he rides on the Underground (their subway) and the people told him they’ll never surrender. The king, eventually, also sides with him.

And history will prove Churchill’s decision right in determining the fate of the world. Remember that the movie is set at a time when Hitler’s Holocaust slaughtering millions of Jews has yet to be discovered to show that he’s really a murderous madman bent on committing genocide. It’s to Churchill’s credit that he foresaw the truth clearly more than the others did and resolved to fight the Nazis to the death.

The film owes much of its power from the screenplay of Anthony McCarten, who got an Oscar nomination for his biopic on Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” that won an Oscar for its lead actor. His new movie is about the rock band Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, that’s definitely worth looking into, considering his track record in weaving together the personal and professional lives of well known figures.

The title is very appropirate since the Germans then threaten to destroy British’s army at a time when U.S. Pres. Franklin Roosevelt chooses neutrality and declines to help them. Britain was really in a very dark place at that moment. “Darkest Hour” succeeds in showing how Churchill copes with the demand of winning over the confidence of the British people, as well as his colleagues who are opposed to him, while still find much lovable moments in showing the man’s personal life and relationships with the people around him.

The script is well served by Gary Oldman’s phenomenal portrayal of Churchill. We read that he has to undergo rigorous makeup sessions just so he can be uncannily transformed and totally disappear into his role. If you’d seen docus about Churchill, you’d agree that Oldman captures him totally, including his constant cigar smoking, his drinking and even the way he talks and his oratorical skills, especially in his famous, rousing “We will never surrender” speech that was also featured in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”.

He just brings the right mixture of warmth, intimidation and gravitas to his performance and he also interacts exceedingly well with all his co-stars, like in his scenes with King George VI and Halifax where he shows tension and control that make for compelling drama. His scenes with his wife gives the movie its heart and the ones with his young personal secretary (played by Lily James of “Cinderella”, “Baby Driver” and “Downton Abbey” with so much charm), brings out the humor and human side of the historical icon. To think there was just another recent Churchill movie, “Churchill” (set before the Normandy invasion), starring Brian Cox, which was widely vilified as mediocre.

The period production design gives the story a strong and authentic backdrop, with the cinematography creating strikingly rich visuals. The fantastic camera work is enhanced even more by the vibrant but lyrical musical score. These achievements make the film truly entertaining and worth seeing, so rush to the theaters now before it vanishes, since this kind of important history lesson is not the kind of escapist flick most viewers go for.