What could have been a thrilling insight into the psyche of one of 20th century’s most iconic, important & influential figures is reduced to an exceptionally dull, drab & dreary biopic that’s crafted with zero passion, narrated with no flair, and remains a monotonous ride throughout its runtime. Darkest Hour features none of the ingredients that made its central character such a contentious yet utterly fascinating individual, and the only element that stands out is Gary Oldman’s transformative performance.
Set in 1940 during the Second World War, Darkest Hour covers a month in the life of Winston Churchill, the newly appointed Prime Minister of Great Britain on whom hangs the fate of a nation as the seemingly unstoppable Nazi Germany forces sweep through Western Europe, engulfing one country after another. With number of allies growing thin, his own party plotting against him, and threat of invasion becoming more imminent, Churchill must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against overwhelming odds.
Directed by Joe Wright, there is rarely anything in Darkest Hour that’s realised to its full potential. It’s intense & gripping when the subject matter is being taken seriously but those moments are few n far in between. Wright’s direction is all over the place, and lacks a singular focus. The screenplay is lazy & uninspired, is often wasted on trivial matters, and those petty attempts at humour were totally uncalled for. There’s just as much superfluous content in it as there are layers of make-up on Gary Oldman here, and all it does is bog down the narrative.
The set pieces do evoke the 1940 atmosphere but most of them aren’t properly lit. Also, more often than not, one can almost always guess a better camera angle for a given scene than what the filmmakers opted to go ahead with. Make-up & Costume Design teams go all out to douse Oldman in prosthetics & wardrobes but it’s not really a complaint. Editing however is a mess, for there are so many moments in it that should have ended up on the editing room floor instead, and their presence only makes its 125 minutes runtime difficult to sit through.
Coming to the acting department, leading from the front is Gary Oldman in the coveted role of Winston Churchill, with Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Lily James, Ronald Pickup & others in supporting roles. Oldman is undeniably one of the most versatile actors on the planet and while he looks & sounds the part, it’s the heavy makeup that ends up making a more prominent impression than the actor underneath it. And yet his rendition overshadows others’ inputs, thus exposing the thinly sketched arcs of supporting characters. Still, Mendelsohn & Dillane do well with what they are given.
On an overall scale, Darkest Hour is effortlessly compelling when Gary Oldman is monologuing Churchill’s famous speeches but it is unable to sustain that same level of interest at other times. An amalgamation of lifeless narration, mediocre direction, lacklustre writing, poor editing & sluggish pacing, its only redeeming quality is Oldman’s commanding work which does prevent the film from falling apart entirely but even that particular aspect had room for more improvement. Bringing nothing but a shadow of the aspiring leader who simply was the right man at the right place in the right time for Great Britain, Darkest Hour lacks the indomitable, unbridled & bristling qualities of Winston Churchill’s larger-than-life persona, and is worth a view only for Gary Oldman’s performance.