May, 1940, With Hitler rampant and Europe on the brink, freshly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman) is under pressure. Calls are intensifying for him to make peace, but he resolves to fight on, whatever the cost.
With Darkest Hour, director Joe Wright takes history at its most momentous, wraps it around a figure who couldn’t be more potently iconic, and places this rich but heavy package almost entirely in the hands of his leading man, Gary Oldman. An actor who, despite impressing us for decades with his chameleonic aptitude and emotive heft, has astonishingly been rewarded with only a single Oscar nomination (for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, in 2012). If this film can’t change that, nothing will. It is truly a gift of a role, and Oldman repays Wright with the performance of a lifetime.
Complemented rather than smothered by make-up artist Kazuhiro Tsuji’s jowly prosthetics, Oldman revels in the high-volume bombast and tactless bluster of a PM who was thought an embarrassment by many of his peers. He barrels around Westminster on surprisingly light feet, like a low-flying, alcohol-fuelled dirigible with a cigar at its prow. He’ll dictate to his secretary Elizabeth Layton (James) amid the sploshes of bathtime before suddenly announcing his emergence “in a state of nature”, and spends so much time making life-or-death decisions in the loo, the WC on the door may as well be his initials.