“You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”Winston Churchill
At a time when Churchill has rightly been undergoing a reevaluation, Darkest Hour disappointingly skirts any controversial topics by focusing on a few weeks at the start of his premiership, deciding as France falls whether to engage in peace talks with Germany. In a masterful, Oscar-winning performance, Gary Oldman entirely disappears into Churchill’s visage, aided by prosthetics but sold through the physicality of his mannerisms and intonation. It is a complex portrayal that incorporates the irrascible man of words, iconically defiant against the odds, but also a privately wavering man, weakened by alcoholism, and a man who lied to the British people in his first broadcast as prime minister. The film constructed around it, however, is the most banal patriotism, content simply to deify him as a rousing orator. Most jarring is a transparently fabricated sequence in which Churchill rides the underground to seek the public’s opinion, his Macaulay quotation completed by a black Londoner in a rose-tinted portrayal of multiculturalism and British fearlessness. It is saccharine Oscar-bait, and undermines the verisimilitude that pervades much of Darkest Hour. The cinematography suits the title, scenes grimly bathed in shadow and desaturated, frequently near-monochrome, much occuring within the confines of the subterranean War Rooms. There are brief sequences of war in France, and Joe Wright revisits the Dunkirk evacuation (though never in so striking a fashion as his astonishing long take in Atonement). In Wright’s hands, this is all highly competent and compelling filmmaking but, Oldman’s peformance aside, Darkest Hour is a hagiography that serves little purpose with no fresh perspective.