‘Darkest Hour’ shines bright


Courtesy Focus Features

Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” directed by Joe Wright.

By Brock Stillmunks

A battlefield blazes with fire as bombs fly through the French countryside and destroy everything in their path. Cries of wounded soldiers fade as the camera lingers on a young man’s soot-covered cheek. Bombs that burned so bright, chaotic and true are reflected in a single dull eye as the battle rages forward. This is “Darkest Hour.”

“Darkest Hour,” directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice”), hits theaters Nov. 22 and chronicles the first two weeks after Winston Churchill—played by the incomparable Gary Oldman—assumes his role as U.K. prime minister. He battles with his war room, refusing to negotiate peace talks with Nazi Germany while struggling with the likely imminent invasion of England.

Despite all the death and destruction surrounding Churchill, this film’s strength lies not in the carnage in the fields, on the beaches and in the air but in Wright’s ability to showcase Churchill’s agony and frustration throughout the film. 

Our introduction to Churchill is in a quiet, dark room.

Bruno Delbonnel’s (“Amelie,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Big Eyes”) cinematography is in top form as he uses light to reveal the film’s characters and their struggles. Delbonnel’s gorgeous work transports the audience back to the early 1940s. The soft light, cloudy skies and Gothic architecture carve out Wright’s ambitious world.

The brilliant supporting cast, including Lily James (“Baby Driver”), Ronald Pickup (“The Day of the Jackal”) and Ben Mendelsohn (“The Place Beyond the Pines”), brings Oscar winner Anthony McCarten’s (“The Theory of Everything”) script to life. Mendelsohn deserves special recognition for his portrayal of King George VI deciding between ruling in exile or staying with his people. It takes a great performance to compete with Oldman’s, and Mendelsohn rises to the occasion. 

Oldman, unrecognizable thanks to the great prosthetic artist Kazuhiro Tsuji (“Looper”), stuns as Churchill, capturing his inflection, pulse and tone to embody the great leader. The Academy Award for Best Actor has long eluded Oldman, who was nominated in 2011, but this performance could be enough to finally earn him the coveted award. 

In “Darkest Hour,” Wright brings history to life, wading into one of the bleakest eras of western civilization and reaching the other side with an intimate portrait of the light that dragged us through the ultimate darkness.