Not to be confused with 2011 Emile Hirsch vehicle The Darkest Hour 3D, this new Churchill biopic stars Gary Oldman as the Prime Minister in the early days of World War II.
In another case of twin films, the movie comes hot on the heels of Churchill starring Brian Cox – that’s the actor rather than the eager physicist, although had he played Churchill people might have actually gone to see it. Meanwhile John Lithgow plays the wartime PM in Netflix series The Crown, a show that demonstrates the willingness of people I once respected to lap up royalist propaganda.
Oldman’s performance towers above them all, spluttering and emoting his way through a tonne of prosthetics and straight to the Oscars. Everything else is textbook British Oscar film: a proven director (Joe Wright), a stirring score (Dario Marianelli) and rainy shots of our conflicted protagonist sitting in cars – where Gary Oldman, just like his younger brother, feels safest of all.
Along with performances from Ben Mendehlson as the King and Kristin Scott Thomas as Winston’s implausibly attractive wife, we get all of Churchill’s greatest hits, including: “We will fight them on the beaches,” “All babies look like me,” and “Oh, yes!” At one point he remarks, “I nap at four,” instantly invoking Donald Trump – except Churchill drinks booze instead of Coke, and spends a lot of time in a bathrobe which Trump famously doesn’t have.
All of which is classily executed if unremarkable, until one scene so extraordinarily bad it would jolt even Desmond Swayne MP from his “slumber”. This sequence sees Churchill abandon the safeness of his car and head to the London Underground for the first time in his life. Here he befriends a black man, gets the idea for his “never surrender” speech from a little girl, and tests the mood of the general public by… asking them. Like this: “How did such a horribly literal, facile scene end up in such a prestigious movie?” Unable to suppress his Liberal past, he then returns to Parliament where he reads his new friends’ names off a card like Nick Clegg. If there’s a worse scene in all of 2018 I hope I never see it.
That aside, Darkest Hour 2D nicely complements Dunkirk and speaks to our current situation as well; Europe’s fate uncertain, fascism on the move and a Tory party in disarray – albeit with a leader who makes jokes rather than simply being one.