Gary Oldman is committed to selling this chamber drama. He disappears into the fat suit and prosthetics to deliver a convincing performance. The rest of the cast is great too, creating an interesting clash of personalities. Ben Mendelsohn made the wise decision of portraying a man coping with a speech impediment, rather than exaggerate it to define his role.
Each of these characters is positioned so precisely in every scene that even someone who isn’t knowledgeable of cinematography will marvel at what they’re seeing. Camerawork and lighting – with the help of production design – give every frame a cinematic flourish that even when King George VI is merely standing in a room, it’s atmospheric.
Unfortunately, no matter how Bruno Delbonnel and Joe Wright tries to convince us how dramatic a scene is – such as an emotional exchange between Churchill and Elizabeth Layton as she tries to type his tragic ultimatum to Brigadier Nicholson – through precise lighting and blocking, it all rings hollow.
The audience doesn’t get a sense of how really dire the situation is and the bird’s eye view of computer-generated bombings only make it less convincing. The movie focuses on Churchill coping with his detractors and lack of confidence in his appointment as Prime Minister.
His sugarcoated narrative goes through every trope imaginable for two hours – the least likely hero with quirky habits, at least two female supporters, stuffy arch-rival, an unsolvable crisis, and an authoritative figure that he manages to win over.
The Darkest Hour can be summarized with one scene – Churchill incites the nationalistic furor of a crowd denouncing fascism and inspired by a girl, recites a poem about perseverance only to be completed with the last verse by a black man. In case you don’t know, the real Winston Churchill is racist and imperialist.
Even when seen as a British prestige drama – retrograde history aside – the movie is an actor’s showcase with blatant showboating. Darkest Hour fancies itself as a portrait of Churchill. In reality, it’s a simplistic version specifically crafted to highlight one moment in history.
Darkest Hour is a safe, predictable biopic that only exists to win gold statues and it will.
Darkest Hour is an obviously crafted Oscar-bait featuring a simplistic and patriotic version of Churchill designed to bag gold statues.