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Review: ‘Darkest Hour’ Brilliantly Brings World War II Era to Life

Gary Oldman is Churchill redux, bringing all of the iconic statesman’s eccentricities to life. 

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Gary Oldman, take a bow. Oldman, as Winston Churchill, doesn’t simply shine bright through Darkest Hour, he dazzles. The history buff in me was chuffed to finally watch the 2017 British war drama film (directed by Joe Wright and written by Anthony McCarten) on the big screen.

While the narrative was constructed to the T, it was Oldman who truly brought history to life.

The war drama is a throwback to the Dunkirk evacuation, or rather, a pre-quel to it (as depicted in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,”), and manages to reconstruct the historical event to near perfection.

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For those who snoozed through their history lessons, German forces began to occupy Belgium and France around mid-May 1940, forcing the better part of the British army to retreat onto a beach in Dunkirk, in the north of France. This tense time saw the the rise of Churchill to the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, overthrowing Neville Chamberlain, much to the chagrin of several members of the parliament who supported Chamberlain.

Churchill’s first few weeks at the helm of the UK government came to a head with the Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, which saw the evacuation of the Allied soldiers during World War II from Dunkirk.

But Churchill (read: Oldman) cuts right through this grim tale with his sparkling wit and inimitable ways – that is, with a Cuban Romeo y Julieta / Camacho in his mouth, and a glass of scotch in hand. Sample this exchange (I can practically HEAR it in Churchill… ahem… Gary Oldman’s voice):

Churchill: I nap at 4pm.
King George VI of England: Is that permissible?
Churchill: No, but it’s necessary.

Churchill Redux

Churchill is indisputably one of the most recognisable historical figures. But who would think he would one day be ‘reborn’ as himself? Or so it appears when one watches Oldman on screen.

The magician behind Oldman’s outstanding make-up and metamorphosis is Japanese artist Kazuhiro Tsuji, who most notably swished his wand over Eddie Murphy in the 2007 film Norbit, and won an Academy Award nomination that year.

It is very easy to become the caricature of a person while imitating them, but Oldman never becomes that. He IS Churchill. Be it his boorish manner of speaking or his subversive ways, always stirring up a hornet’s nest– Oldman performs all of that effortlessly.

One would imagine, it would be difficult to hold a candle to Oldman’s Churchill, but Clementine, his wife, portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas, does not disappoint. She is the woman – not behind – but constantly by the side of a reckless, wildly intelligent man, keeping him from losing his sanity.

Always well poised and assertive, Clementine (read: Kristin Thomas) is a worthy match. Always the voice of reason, Clementine tells the rebellious Churchill one night, “I want others to love and respect you, as I do.” And perhaps that’s what culminates in Churchill’s new-found popularity in the end.
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Time-Travelling to World II-London

The other characters pale in comparison to the garrulous Churchill, but then, one can hardly blame them. The one place in which the film perhaps falls a bit short is in its editing. For those who aren’t history buffs, the film may seem to be a tad too long.

But in keeping with its authenticity, what also makes this period film larger-than-life is its production and costume design by duo Sarah Greenwood and Jacqueline Durran of Beauty and the Beast (2017) fame.

One is transported to a World War II-era London, painted in the hues of one of the darkest hours of its time.

Rating: 4 quints out of 5

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