Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman performs a stunning magic trick in “Darkest Hour,” disappearing entirely into the role of Winston Churchill. There’s no point in holding an Oscar ceremony this year. The Academy already gave all the awards to Oldman.

“Darkest Hour” tells the story of Churchill’s appointment as Britain’s prime minister while Hitler’s shadow begins to fall over Europe. With Hitler’s chokehold over England tightening, Churchill takes power in an uncertain and dark chapter in his country’s history.

Churchill was second choice for the premiership and a controversial pick because of his mixed legacy in parliament, unpredictability and eccentric demeanor. Oldman displays this grizzled temperament to a tee, using every muscle in his body. From his aching fingers grasping a glass of scotch in the morning to his wrinkled jowl flopping as he gives an impassioned speech, the British actor has achieved a new level of dramatic genius.

Oldman’s use of physicality is reminiscent of another classically-trained British actor, Eddie Redmayne, and his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” The films were both written by Anthony McCarten, a talented screenwriter with a knack for placing the drama on center stage, while paying heed to important historical details.

“Darkest Hour” is overly dramatic and sometimes even reads as a superhero film, with Churchill swooping in to save the day. Yet, McCarten retains enough sobriety and realistic dialogue to keep his films out of Oscar-bait territory. In other actors’ hands, it could have easily become a silly feel-good movie, but the film escapes this trap, while maintaining some warranted cheesiness, much like the 2016 hit “Hidden Figures” did.

Joe Wright’s film feels urgent as a calendar ticks away days with each change of scene. His direction is stylistic and assured, and each scene in the House of Parliament soars with the drama and sensation that is the stuff of good historical film-making.

Kristen Scott Thomas, playing Churchill’s wife; Ben Mendelsohn, playing King George VI; and Lily James, playing a stenographer, fill in the periphery with excellent performances. The well-cast ensemble support Oldman, but, to be fair, it would take Daniel Day-Lewis playing Joseph Stalin to upstage his tour-de-force performance.

One can’t help but think Oldman’s mastery would have been more fun to watch in the more engaging center of World War II drama and not in the static beginning of England’s World War II history. Still, viewers could be satisfied watching Oldman’s Churchill stare at a wall or take a bath, and Wright’s stylized direction and McCarten’s steady script make “Darkest Hour” a compelling and well-done historical film.

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