During trying times it’s easy to quit. That kind of stress can be overwhelming, so the path of least resistance is to not even try. But history has shown that fighting for what’s right is not only the correct choice but its effects is felt years down the line. Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), when he was appointed British Prime Minister in May 1940, was faced with one of civilization’s biggest evils in Adolf Hitler. With the possibility of invasion due to the fact that all of Britain’s forces were surrounded by Germans on the shores of Dunkirk, Churchill encountered tough situations and had to make even tougher decisions.

Thus is the storyline for Darkest Hour, the latest history film from director Joe Wright. Wright has tackled period pieces before, with films such as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina in his filmography. He also knows a little about World War II, since Atonement was a love story set during those times. His strengths lie in his compelling accounts of past history, and his features have the look, feel and authenticity of those times. In addition, Wright has always been excellent at capturing heart and emotion whilst coaxing excellent performances from his actors. In this case, with Churchill being the main focus of Darkest Hour, audiences choosing this drama will undoubtedly agree that Oldman’s turn as the cigar-toting, alcohol imbibing world leader is the finest of the veteran actor’s career.

To piggyback off that, Oldman is the reason to watch Darkest Hour. For decades he’s mesmerized audiences with his diverse roles – one moment he’s Dracula; the next he’s a low level drug dealer with racial identity issues. Regardless, he’s excellent in nearly everything he’s starred in, and his latest role as Winston Churchill proves, for at least 2 hours, that he is Churchill. Makeup helped him to look like the former British PM (we have Kazuhiro Tsuji to thank for the remarkable metamorphosis). But the rest is all Oldman – this is a master class in acting. Aspiring actors will study this performance in efforts to perfect their craft.

Darkest Hour is classic Oscar bait. It is an entertaining history lesson and is a well-made production. The cinematography is provided by Bruno Delbonnel and is excellent in providing an inside look into Churchill’s daily routine. Composer Dario Marianelli, who’s worked with Wright many times before, provides a moving score which works precisely with every scene. The writing is good but not great since Anthony McCarten focused almost entirely on Churchill. From that perspective the script is great, but it cost the remaining cast opportunities to shine. Regardless, from a technical standpoint Darkest Hour is superb and will likely be rewarded during awards season.

The most important thing to take away from Wright’s latest is its message of having conviction and inner strength. Churchill was dealt a crummy hand – he took over the U.K. when Europe was being conquered. He was forced to make unenviable decisions that would drastically affect his homeland and the rest of the world. While still being a political matter, Churchill also had to juggle increasing pressure and conflict from Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), the former PM who resigned amidst heavy scrutiny; and Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane), the Foreign Secretary who many thought should have taken over as PM. Chamberlain and Halifax sought out peace and were willing to negotiate with Mussolini and Hitler in order to save the U.K. from attack. But they didn’t see Hitler as the tyrant he turned out to be, whereas Churchill recognized that truth more clearly than his peers. He had his doubts, but ultimately Churchill, after winning support from King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), his wife Clemmie (a fantastic but underused Kristin Scott Thomas), his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and (most importantly) normal everyday U.K. citizens, he opted against peace talks, the result being a rousing speech in front of Parliament and the victory in WWII.

Many consider us to be living in dark times now, and Darkest Hour is a picture which inspires us to be diligent in order to move outside of that and toward better times. Wright and Oldman are the main reasons why this message is successfully delivered, even though nothing new or exiting is explored. This is just good filmmaking and is enjoyable fare.

3.5 stars out of 5

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