When an actor tackles the large task of portraying an historical figure, the whole exercise can sometimes dissolve into prosthetics, wigs, accents and just one big character impersonation. An impersonation with good intentions, sure…but an impersonation, nonetheless.
Not Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, though. In ‘Darkest Hour’, Oldman immerses himself into every inch and pore of the man often regarded as the most important political figure of the 20th century. His performance is so accurate, so endearing, so utterly dominating in earning your attention, it’s not entirely correct to say that the actor steals the show – he IS the show.
Of course, director Joe Wright (‘Pride & Prejudice’, ‘Atonement’) came to play as well, though he’s consistently – and, I’m going to wager, happily – upstaged by his lead player. Wright’s punchy edge in unraveling the perilous weeks in 1940 when it looked like England was going to be mowed by Hitler’s army helps ‘Darkest Hour’ steer clear of ever becoming a stuffy period piece…though I believe the overall blueprint of the film would make such a move impossible. Title cards stylishly slam down with the ferocity of a contemporary music video, and even the smoke-infested rooms of parliament have a bit of pep to them in Wright’s history lesson.
At the end of it all, I’m not sure much is learned about Churchill that we didn’t already know, but ‘Darkest Hour’ does give ample opportunity to understand and, thus, appreciate the British Bulldog.