Here’s a pub quiz question of the future for you – ‘What role did the following actors all play within a 10 year period: Gary Oldman, Brian Cox, Michael Gambon and Brendan Gleeson?’
The answer is, of course, Winston Churchill.
You can also include Albert Finney in that list, if you go back to 2002, and Timothy Spall, among others, if you start counting supporting roles.
By now, Ian McKellen must be wondering why he is basically the only actor in the country over the age of 50 who’s yet to be invited to join the ‘I’ve Played Churchill’ club. That being said, he has narrated a documentary on the former Prime Minister, so perhaps that counts.
Our fascination with Churchill is an understandable one. After all, our fascination with World War Two is eminently justified considering the impact it had on the world, and Churchill was a key player.
But is Darkest Hour really doing anything new enough, or well enough, to warrant a spot on the Best Picture nomination list and a shot, however unlikely, at winning?
Many have called Gary Oldman ‘unrecognisable’ in Darkest Hour, but Oldman’s eyes are all wrong, and all the prosthetics in the world can’t change that.
Being ‘unrecognisable’ is very different from looking like Winston Churchill. Just like shaving Piers Morgan and adorning him with thick rimmed glasses would make him unrecognisable, but not much like Churchill.
Perhaps, then, I’m taking the word ‘unrecognisable’ too literally.
Oldman does transform himself, and the adopted mannerisms and performance he gives could be described as ‘unrecognisable’ in the ‘testament to someone’s acting prowess’ meaning of the word.
He thoroughly deserves his Best Actor nomination, and comparing his looks too minutely is possibly being pedantic.
However, Oldman being a great actor and giving a great performance doesn’t make Darkest Hour a great film.
Perhaps I’m just a product of my generation, and unable to cope with any film that doesn’t involve an action sequence in the first 10 minutes, but when you boil it down, Darkest Hour is essentially two hours of a man making a decision, then changing his mind, then changing it back again.
I appreciate that the decision Churchill had to make was a monumentally difficult one, with huge, far reaching consequences.
I also appreciate that portraying Churchill’s inner turmoil and outer verbal battle with much-maligned appeaser Lord Halifax makes for a potentially interesting film.
But that doesn’t change the fact that, at times, the pacing in Darkest Hour is unnecessarily slow.
The film really gets its teeth stuck into Churchill’s dilemma, but it could have been achieved more effectively by cutting 10 minutes, or by expanding the stories of the supporting characters and adding 10 minutes.
The motivations of Kristin Scott Thomas’ Clementine and Lily James’ Elizabeth are pretty neglected throughout, as is any meaningful look at their respective interactions with Churchill.
Behind every great man is a great woman, so either cut some of the more superficial scenes involving them to speed up the film, or, preferably, devote some screen time to them in order to create three-dimensional female characters that we can actually care about.
Darkest Hour is a film about Winston Churchill, so of course most of the film is going to focus on him, but that doesn’t preclude introducing complexity to any other character, particularly one as influential in real life as Clemmie Churchill.
James and Thomas do the best with what they’re given, but if the Oscars are all about trying to promote inclusivity and equality at the moment, why is Darkest Hour even on the list?
I’m not saying the film is inherently sexist, but it does seem like somewhat of a missed opportunity to create some great female characters who could have added some nuance to the script.
That’s not to say Darkest Hour doesn’t have some great moments in it.
‘You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth’ is one of those movie lines that’ll stick around in my head for years to come, and some of the shots, like the ‘view from a Spitfire’ one, are brilliant.
However, I’m not sure I’ll ever see a scene in a Best Picture-nominated film that is quite so contrived as the tube ride passenger poll – as Churchill attempts to make up his mind between war or surrender and negotiation, the historical accuracy takes a pounding as he questions each passenger as to what they think he should do.
Repeated lines, in the style of a children’s show, are thrust unfavourably into the dialogue, as is some pretty hammy acting, and a convenient, unanimous consensus between all passengers that, yes, we should fight.
The cheesiness of it was so prevalent that it almost seemed like it was an intentionally bad joke.
Ultimately, it just doesn’t make sense to me that a film with so many flaws should be lauded as one of the best nine in past year.
You’ll never find a perfect film, but if you look at some of the previous Oscar nominees for Best Picture – from Pulp Fiction to Good Will Hunting, and The Shawshank Redemption to Gangs of New York – you realise that you can get pretty close.
Darkest Hour just doesn’t really belong in such illustrious company.