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European films

Film review: Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman makes victorious turn as Churchill in captivating political thriller

Other recent portrayals of the legendary British prime minister by Brian Cox and John Lithgow pale in comparison to Oldman’s colossal performance that perfectly captures the complicated, cigar-smoking politician

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 January, 2018, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 4:25pm

4/5 stars

Joe Wright’s Winston Churchill drama, starring Gary Oldman as the British prime minister, is hardly first out of the gate.

In the past year we’ve seen Brian Cox in Churchill, and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which covered the 1940 evacuation of British troops from the beaches of northern France. Wright’s own 2007 film, Atonement, famously touched on it too. Would there be a need for this retelling?

Actually, yes, when you’ve got Oldman in the lead. Caked in prosthetics and a fat suit, the British actor is unrecognisable as the cigar-smoking, champagne-quaffing politician who is forced to fight just as many battles at home as he is against Adolf Hitler, with his lack of popularity, perceived recklessness and volatile temper causing colleagues to conspire against him.

With wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) for moral support, Churchill must also contend with King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) and the very real possibility of England seeking a deal with Germany, succumbing to its tyranny.

Film review: Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan’s second world war thriller is a stunning cinematic achievement

Wright’s production, if not exactly original, oozes class. Dynamically told, with its restless camera work and a nerve-tingling score, the film has all the hallmarks of a political thriller.

As befits a story about Churchill, Oldman bestrides Darkest Hour like a colossus. His powerful turn far surpasses Cox’s pale imitation, or indeed John Lithgow’s credible work in The Crown. Grappling with Churchill’s inner humanity and steely resolve – even via the questionable scene where he meets everyday folk on a tube train – Oldman has offered a portrayal for the ages.

Oscar favourite Gary Oldman on playing Churchill in Darkest Hour – and nicotine poisoning from smoking all those fine cigars

Darkest Hour opens on January 4

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