Darkest Hour, rated PG-13
Starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane
Austin Family Critical Rating: 4½ of 5 stars
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 4½ of 5 stars
Director Joe Wright has a unique talent for infusing period pieces with a liveliness that keeps the material engaging and dynamic. He has done so regularly in adaptations of great literature, with Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007) and Anna Karenina (2012) all elevated by his directorial prowess. He continues his great work with Darkest Hour, a film concentrated on the efforts of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), who, as Britain’s Prime Minister in the 1940s, served as the leader of the war effort in World War II and a driving force behind the eventual success of the Allies.
As many critics have noted, Darkest Hour overlaps with the battle of Dunkirk so memorably depicted in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk earlier this year. Darkest Hour shows the events from an interior, governmental perspective, but in a way, it’s no less intense than Nolan’s film. Both are human dramas, but this film examines the effect the war takes on a man who is, for all intents and purposes, the face of England during this tumultuous time. Like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), it’s a complex examination of a leader faced with crisis and opposition from all sides, and deals with the complicated decisions he has to make in order to come out ahead.
Gary Oldman is astonishing as Churchill. Yes, it’s a performance sure to attract Oscar buzz, but his work is the center of a movie that’s just as good as he is – which can’t be said for all biopics with strong lead performances.
From JFK (1991) to The Dark Knight (2008) to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Oldman has portrayed a wildly eclectic range of characters in his career. But for an actor who has so brilliantly played some wild villains through the years, it’s fascinating that his most awards-friendly performances are also his most humane. In Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, he is restrained to a point where he hardly seems like he’s acting – he’s our quiet hero leading us through a world of espionage. Here, he’s much more bombastic, but it’s absolutely in the service of channeling the behavior and mannerisms of Churchill himself.
Darkest Hour also features a terrific supporting cast, including Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill, and one of my favorite character actors, Ben Mendelsohn, as King George VI (he gives his own unique interpretation of the role, who was also played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech).
For those expecting a dry chapter of history, don’t be alarmed. Darkest Hour is crackling with energy, and it’s another worthy film in Wright’s oeuvre. The film is rated PG-13, but it seems tailor-made for young people who are interested in history – there’s hardly anything objectionable, outside of intense conversations about war, to be found.
Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.