- Colin Fraser
FOUR STARS Winston Churchill meets resistance as he prepares to rescue troops from the beaches of Normandy
Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn
PERIOD DRAMA #DARKESTHOUR
Depending on your historical viewpoint, Winston Churchill was either Britain’s most revered or reviled Prime Minister. In either regard, there’s no doubting his ability to draw his nation together during World War II, particularly in its darkest hour prior to clearing the beaches of Normandy. It’s the lead up to Churchill’s celebrated ‘we-shall-fight’ speech that is the narrative backbone of this winning film.
The question of why remains - why yet another Winstonian drama following on from the fine CHURCHILL starring Brian Cox or series one of THE CROWN which relies heavily on John Lithgow’s excellent portrayal of HM’s formidable PM? That said, there’s something about Churchill that seems to bring out the best in an actor - Gary Oldman’s Oscar nominated turn here is also quite remarkable. Perhaps it’s the lure of Oscar glory (six noms in total) that account for the why. That and an opportunity to explore a legendary force who was no one’s first choice yet turned out to be their last hope.
Directed by Joe Wright (ATONEMENT), DARKEST HOUR is a thrilling work - less for fiery dramatics (there’s surprisingly little in the way of bullets, bombs or action set-pieces) but more for the film’s fiery language. It makes a pallid story - PM revs up politicians and people - intoxicating, and there’s praise seldom heard these days. Wright’s stunning visual language, exhilarating tracking shots and staging form the guts of the film that is backed by pulsing dialogue. “You can not reason with a tiger when you’re head is in its mouth!” shouts an agitated Churchill. He turns the room cold. Special mention to Ben Mendelsohn for his striking performance as King George VI.
While the man’s life story is perhaps too well known, CHURCHILL is a film that fizzes with thrilling detail. Packed with energy and tartness, it’s a film that hits squarely in the stomach every step of the way.