Leadership And Courage Are History in “Darkest Hour”

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Although the Winston Churchill portrayed by Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour” is ten years younger than the Churchill played by John Lithgow in “The Crown” both give one cause to lament the current state of leadership and political courage.

Unknowncc“Hour” is set at a time when Churchill earned his stripes, as a wartime prime minister battling political enemies favoring compromise with the German’s while protecting Great Britain from actual enemies.

The story takes place over the handful of days when British troops are trapped between the ocean and the German army. “Dunkirk” told this story in macrocosm, “Hour” tells it in microcosm, from the home front, as a citizen armada is debated and created and show’s Churchill failure to  recruit an isolationist US to Britain’s cause.

He has 100 ideas a day. “Four of them are good. The others are dangerous” says a foe.

Under considerable prosthetic Oldman looks like Ned Beatty, drinking and smoking his breakfast, barking at a timid secretary from bed and bath, and being scolded by his loving wife, played by Kristin Scott Thomas.

A pivotal scene where Churchill mingles with common folk on the Underground is wishful thinking, which is probably why it resonates. Similarly artful street scenes in slow motion, as people run from the rain under black umbrellas, suggest that beneath that stiff upper people trust their leaders do the right thing. Wonder what that felt like.

Palace intrigue is the dullest part of the film, but the history is ripping and gripping. There are numerous stirring speeches, which Oldman delivers in approximation of Churchill’s phlegmatic cadence. Ben Mendelsohn is Churchill’s frenemy King George. And the musical underscore has the clicking urgency of an Enigma machine.

Director Joe Wright changes gears between the personal, political and global in a way that feels like boxes being ticked off, but Oldman’s but everything rests on a performance that Oscar nominations, and Oscars, are made of.

The rest is history.

Opens Friday, Dec. 22

 

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