Darkest Hour (2017)
Every good biopic needs a solid lead performance, a fresh angle, and a cautiousness as to not become overly comprehensive. Darkest Hour, a film about Winston Churchill's appointment as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and subsequent leadership to resist the German aggression in Europe and towards Britain, ticks all of these boxes, and the result is a constantly fascinating display of thespianism and history lesson.
Ever since the start of his career, Gary Oldman has had an X factor that has garnered him attention and a cult following. His early lead-performances, such as in Sid and Nancy and Prick Up Your Ears were critically acclaimed, but as his popularity grew during the 1990s he also had critics who felt he did too much with his parts. In my opinion, however, his best work during this era contain some of the very best performances ever caught on film, and he was robbed of Oscar nominations again and again, in films such as Prick Up Your Ears, JFK, Dracula, True Romance, Léon and Immortal Beloved. After receiving his first nomination for Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy in 2012, his chameleon-like performance (as per default for him) here is a certain Academy Award winner. Not only because the part itself says Oscar (real-life historical hero, big physical transformation, superb imitation of mannerisms and dialect), but also because the Academy will feel Oldman deserves it. He's no longer a flashy young actor with a cult-following; he's a serious, middle-aged dramatic actor who has paid his dues. It will be a deserved, but long overdue Oscar.
Oldman's unquestionably brilliant performance as Winston Churchill is worth almost half of the admission fee for Darkest Hour. The rest is a solid and fascinating history lesson, which Oldman and director Joe Wright manages to make a little less dry than what it would appear like on paper. Because Darkest Hour is no war-movie; it is a film about diplomacy, politics and power-struggles, populated by almost exclusively elderly statesmen from the British aristocracy. What the film does best in this depiction is nailing down the speech, sociolect and mannerisms of this class-specific cast of characters. This brings authenticity to the proceedings, and in its best scenes, Darkest Hour recaptures that looming notion of terror that the imminent war must have created in Britain at the time.
Darkest Hour may not be for everyone, and it has its share of scenes which border on the contrived (such as the subway scene), but it is nevertheless a film of historical importance which deserves the widespread attention it will get – not least because of Oldman's bravura performance. And if you're not fed up with Churchill after this, I highly recommend checking out the 2011 film Into the Storm about the latter days of Churchill's statesmanship, in which Brendan Gleeson gives an almost equally fine performance as the legendary politician.