You can take one look at the trailer or promotional materials and know exactly what type of movie Darkest Hour is. Handsomely mounted in that generic prestige way, it exists merely as a vehicle for a great actor to give a commendable performance as a real life figure and clean up at awards season. There’s nothing much original here, and a creepy sense of déjà vu does sneak in. if you think you’ve seen Darkest Hour before, it’s probably because you have in a myriad of different forms about different historical figures.
Winston Churchill is an important political figure for the 20th century, and he’s gotten no shortage of famous portrayals over the years. Darkest Hour is yet another one, focusing in on the Dunkirk situation and fading out before he was voted out of office. Shame that it doesn’t have much original thought about the man, his legacy, or the entire situation. It just sits there while Gary Oldman acts through layers of makeup and padding in scene after scene alternate between being bleached out by over lighting and appearing muddy through not enough.
Oldman for his part is the sole reason to see this, and he’s reliably solid in the role. Yet a creeping sensation of a great actor doing fine work getting rewarded for a career achievement creeps into the film. Oldman’s remarkably muted work in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy should’ve won him an Oscar (if we’re going purely on prior nominations), but he’s going to win for slathering on the jowls and chewing the scenery as Churchill. Not to mention his career making Sid Vicious and any number of other eccentric and dangerous roles he’s played over the years. This one can’t help but feel like an over-due course correction, like Kate Winslet finally winning for The Reader, Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, or Meryl Streep getting her third for The Iron Lady.
There is one particularly egregious scene in Darkest Hour that must be commented upon for its sheer stupidity and clear falsehood. It involves Churchill going onto the subway and speaking with the British public about fighting the Nazis. It’s nearly insulting to your intelligence for the film to present this episode as fact, and to expect you to swallow it wholesale. It is so clearly artificial that you’re a little amazed at the audacity of the film-makers to even include. I’m certain a large chunk of watchers ate it up, but much like the rest of the film, I was more induced to eye rolls and shrugs at the perfunctory nature of the whole thing.