Actor Gary Oldman's lengthy career demonstrates the British actor's incredible range. He's played good guys (Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight Trilogy) and bad guys (a corrupt DEA agent in The Professional). He's been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and he gave a memorable performance in 1990's arthouse hit Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, the film based on Tom Stoppard's terrific play. He even wrote and directed the grim 1997 drama Nil by Mouth.
It all seems to have led Oldman to Darkest Hour, his finest performance to date. He portrays Winston Churchill, and his remarkable performance as the British leader will likely get him a well-deserved Oscar nod. It should win him an Oscar too. The movie opens area-wide on Friday.
The film centers on the month-long period from May to June 1940 when Churchill becomes prime minister of Great Britain and faces the daunting task of keeping the surging Nazis at bay. The movie commences as a Neville Chamberlain resigns as prime minister and hands the reins over to Churchill, who faces an immediate problem. He needs to find a way to rescue the 338,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers trapped at Dunkirk. The war weary Churchill still remembers the massacre of British soldiers that took place at Gallipoli during World War I and doesn't want to repeat past mistakes, so he devises a plan that will hopefully help prevent a devastating loss.
It should be noted that Darkest Hour serves as a companion piece of sorts to Christopher Nolan's recent Dunkirk, another film that focuses on the same time period and shows how Allied soldiers managed to evacuate a French port town thanks to the assistance of the local townspeople.
In one striking scene in Darkest Hour, Churchill mingles with the masses and takes the Tube to work one day. He nonchalantly introduces himself to the passengers and asks their advice about whether Britain should surrender to the Nazis. Encouraged by the people's resilience, he goes back to his office determined to find a way to hold off the imminent invasion.
The film's climax comes when Churchill delivers a June 4 speech to the House of Commons. "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender," he promises in a heated moment that sends chills and shows just how fully Oldman inhabits the character.
The movie isn't all storm and stress, either. At one point, Churchill laughs when a co-worker tells him that he initially gave the sign for "up your bum" and not "victory" And Churchill, who regularly barks at his fellow politicians and comes across as rather course and crude, shows compassion for his typist (Lily James) when he learns her brother died at Dunkirk.
Ultimately, the movie reminds us of what it was like to have articulate and inspiring leaders. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten even quotes Churchill's actual words when he declares, "If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground."