Dir: Joe Wright
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor (Gary Oldman), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Costume Design.
Out of all the nominated films I have seen so far this year, this indeed was my darkest hour. In this World War II drama which covers the early days of Winston Churchill in office as the final countdown to all out war between Britain and Germany begins, Gary Oldman ably but not spectacularly portrays Winston in full prosthetic make up and fat suit. Both the make-up and the performance are passable, and a lot of hours clearly went into creating / applying it but the combination sadly never really inspires any sense of true authenticity at any point. Oldman’s Churchill seemingly bumbles and mumbles his way through a series of decisions that lead to some of the most important and historic events of the 20th century. The film itself similarly meanders through a thin plotline largely based on a historically questionable account of former prime minister Neville Chamberlain and foreign secretary The Earl Of Halifax Edward Wood attempting to unseat Churchill.
More minus points come in the form of the film’s two female characters, who are rather unfortunately and slightly painfully shoehorned into the movie most likely in an attempt to dodge accusations of not having any proper featured roles for women. Both women do indeed feature pretty heavily in the film, unfortunately however you can hear the film straining and creaking as it attempts to find them any sort of relevant role in a plot that is essentially a historical document about decisions made by old white men. Both actresses make a good effort but not much is really offered to them. The experience of actress Kristin Scott Thomas sees her make the most of her meagre role as Churchill’s wife Clementine it’s the certainly the better of the two female roles (much more should have been made of this character), but Churchill’s secretary played by Lily James is lumbered with endless bouts of meaningless, historically inaccurate, and sometimes laughable moments. The film really should have either spent more time figuring out something of weight for her to do or just omitted her character from the main thrust of the film.
Oldman gets to break out some of the big Churchill speeches in what he probably hoped would be award baiting flourishes of statesmen like grandeur à la Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, but it never really happens. The famous speeches of Churchill which seem to echo with so much British patriotic spirit and bravery when listened to in hindsight, in actual fact, were not immediately universally subscribed to by the British public, this film accidentally reveals why. It all seems a bit flat. Quite often the director manages to create moments that should be filled with drama given the problems of the times, yet somehow he manages to ring out all the tension in advance so we are just seeing a slightly dull decision making process in Churchill’s war cabinet as the big moments fly by. The film’s historical accuracy takes a huge dip when Churchill takes what is a blindingly obviously fictitious trip onto the London Underground to consult with the common people of London to gauge public opinion. It’s a gut wrenchingly pathetic scene that goes on forever despite the fact Churchill is only travelling a single stop. It’s a nauseatingly cheesy nose dive in an already paint it by numbers historical drama.
Some of the sets in the movie are nice, including the suitably gloomy House of Commons chamber facing it’s “darkest hour”, but outside of that and Oldman clearly making an effort (but perhaps only mildly succeeding) there isn’t anything especially good to say about this pedestrian drama that never really finds a way to capitalise on it’s potential strengths. It’s being pulled in too many directions and nothing is really done well. Even history’s ultimate super villains the Nazi’s seem distant and unthreatening. The plot doesn’t see war as an inevitability, more a political choice based on the wills of the differing opinion of government ministers. Overall the directing is often lazy and uninspired and uses several little visual “tricks” that come across as staid, ill judged and out of step with the film. There is a whole gamut of films about the trials and tribulations of inspiring political leaders really worth watching, this isn’t one of them. Less V for victory more B for bland.
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