There is always a place reserved at the Academy Awards for the dramatic biopic and this year the spot is taken by Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour –and with good reason. Alongside The King’s Speech, which won the Big One several years ago, this movie is an empowering depiction of a significant time in history and a superb human portrayal of figures we only know from textbooks.
After Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is forced to resign as the Nazis gain ground in Europe, the burden of fixing the warfront problems falls to Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). Despite being distrusted by his own party Churchill steps up to the task, filling his cabinet with the cream of his rivals. His aggressive nature and powerful way with words barely keeps him afloat and all the while Germany’s voyage towards England increases with the last groups of Allied forces taking heavy fire at Calais and Dunkirk. With his own cabinet trying to remove him from office and his prior military history working against him on the battlefront, time is against Churchill to put the spirit of the fight into Parliament.
Without any argument the film is all about the performances. The story itself –though padded with some fictitious scenes such as Churchill’s conversing with civilians on the London Underground- is a simple retelling of a historical event and doesn’t really give us much in terms of surprise or wonder. Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill is epic –very deserving of its Oscar nomination. Even more so when you consider that he’s buried underneath a tonne of makeup. During his speeches he’s dramatic, aggressive, and empowering and in his more tender moments you completely forget about the cantankerous old man you met at the film’s beginning. He also manages to bring a level of comedy to the film, which alleviates a fair portion of the dramatic war-talk.
The period aesthetic and cinematography itself is effective –though definitely not subtle- in creating a mounting sense of excitement and even patriotism and Dario Marianelli’s moving score of piano and strings is a key factor in raising these feelings.
While it hasn’t shown us anything new or cinematically groundbreaking, Darkest Hour is definitely deserving of the six Oscars it’s nominated for. Being first and foremost an actor’s film is never a bad thing and the superb cast is what made this movie alive and exciting.