He did it! He finally fucking did it – Gary Oldman has an Oscar! All moviegoers rejoice.
If you’re new to the name of Gary Oldman, give it a Google and you might be pleasantly surprised at how many films you might have seen him but didn’t know until now. It’s this versatility as an actor that has had people calling for him to get an Oscar, just as much as we all were championing for Leonardo DiCaprio for so many years. It seems that taking on one of the biggest historical figures ever finally did the trick.
In The Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill, as he comes to power as British Prime Minister, following the unsettling times of Hitler’s presence during World War II. This is focused on the events leading up to Dunkirk, which was similarly explored by Christopher Nolan’s last film of the same name. But unlike Dunkirk, The Darkest Hour examines the lives of politicians responsible for trying to save nearly 300,000 soldiers trapped on the beaches of France. With Hitler’s army coming ever closer to completely wiping them out, it is a pivotal moment in Churchill’s career, but also one that is likely to cut off any hope for Britain’s involvement with the war; if these lives cannot be saved.
It’s these real-life accounts that make The Darkest Hour fascinating to watch. Having known Churchill was a predominant figure during World War II, it was interesting to see that he really wasn’t at all loved as much as I had initially assumed. And the fact that his rise to power came as a decision that wasn’t really approved by many, but rather because he was more than likely the right man for the current climate. In short, putting a formidable and fierce leader that could ultimately stand up to the likes of Hitler.
However, I’m not a fan of the lengthy runtime, or rather, the pace of events that it took for it to do so. More so with the last half of the film, it really felt like it was repeating the same beats over and over again,and could have easily been a half an hour shorter. Such an emphasis on the delays experienced, whilst waiting for approvals and planning to prevent the slaughter at Dunkirk, would have been an accurate reflection of reality. But when this real-time is translated to film, I simply couldn’t wait that long for a resolution that we already know exactly how it’s going to end.
Thankfully, Gary Oldman’s performance does still hold your attention enough throughout, but it’s this repetition that ultimately kills the rest of the film. Especially given most would have already seen Nolan’s Dunkirk before this, it unfortunately detracts and effectively spoils exactly how The Darkest Hour is going to play out. This might not be the fault of the film but just bad timing on the distributors part, but it removes any surprise and to an extent, a level of originality to the story.
What works best, is when these elements are better focused on Churchill’s dynamics within his coalition and not the time spent waiting for a resolution to be finalized. It’s great to watch how he wins the respect of not only those that despised him coming to power, but also those lives he was standing up for and the responsibility to the nation as a whole. There’s a standout scene from the film, where he rides the public train and interacts with regular citizens that commute along with him. These interactions humanize him and provide a nice retrospective look into a man that was voted the most influential figure in Britain’s history for the past 100 years.
So, whilst I enjoyed the aspects of Gary Oldman the most, with a film like this it is still an above average piece, but I’m inclined to say you could warrant skipping this. It’s simply too long for something they could have shown in an hour to 90-minute special. And this brings it down to the ranking we’ve given it. I’d easily recommend watching Nolan’s Dunkirk over this, for something more exciting and then glancing over some of the part’s in The Darkest Hour to fill the gaps. But if you were still feeling like you’d want to watch an important part of World War II history, this film will still be an enjoyable ride.