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The Darkest Hour Is A Gary Oldman Showcase Masquerading As A Churchill Bio-Pic: Movie Review

The Darkest Hour

Starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James

Directed  by Joe Wright

Rating: ** ½(2 and a half stars)

 The  true measure of a  masterly performance  is in its proclivity to hide the craft that goes behind the process of creating  a character. In playing the blustering, bullying,opinionated, pigheaded, unorthodox,raunchy but finally effective British prime  minister Winston Churchill  who took on the might  of Hitler , Oldman pulls out all the stops. He isn’t afraid to let his impressive skills shine through the  astonishing prosthetics.It  is  a performance DESIGNED to win awards.

 And therein lies the main problem  with this  not-unimpressive  bio-pic.

 Oldman’s portrayal of  the blustering  old man is spot-on but  designed to win the Oscar. The rest of the components in this Joe Wright directed  film pale into insignificance. The  film wears  a strangely glum dingy look, as though the parliament sessions and the  Prime Minister’s home at the time of Hitler’s invasion were infected by a deep melancholy and a dismaying absence of sunshine.The last time I saw a film looking so glum was  in Shekhar Kapoor’s Elizabeth.

I am not surprised  to note that the  cinematographer Bruno Delbonnelhas earlier collaborated  with  director Tim Burton on Dark Shadows.The Darkest Hour revels in shadowy whispers  and silhouetted innuendos. The  parliamentary sessions shown in the film never rise above the level of staged drama and the famous Winston speeches  delivered  through swigs of the trademark cigar,do not transcend the  mood of  doctored  dogma

Nonetheless the lengthy film has passages of  excellence popping up like a clown at a very dull birthday party. My favourite portion of  the  film  has Churchill/Oldman  jumping out of his car at a traffic and taking a ride on the subway train with British workingclasspassengers.

“What’s the matter? You’ve never seen  a Prime Minister ride the subway before?’he asks the open-mouthe  commuters cheekily.

 As played by Oldman, Churchill is  a bit of a defiant brat. His limited understanding of British politics  is perpetually overridden by his determination to do what is right for the country.While the  sequences where he brokers peacetime preconditions  with his cabinet members are done  with a selfimportant clumsiness Churchill’s personal relationships with  the King(Ben Mendelsohn), with his wife(Kristin  Scott Thomas) and  specially with his personal secretary(Lily James) come across with rigorous sinewiness.

In  a moment of unguarded emotional  honesty the secretary  tells Churchill that the War has taken away her brother. When she catches the Prime Minister staring at her, he tells her with disarmingdisingenuousness, “I just want to look at you.”

Wish we could feel the same wave of empathy for the narrative which runs the gamut  of manufactured emotions from political rhetoric to wartime sarcasm.  The Darkest Hour never quite expels  the  feeling of being a vehicle for Oldman’s virtuosity. Yes, he was born to play Churchill. But was Churchill born so that an actor as skilled asOldman  could one day play him ?

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