Amid Oscars season, Gary Oldman is a clear candidate for the Best Actor nomination for his outstanding performance of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” released Nov. 22. The film is set during the spring of 1940, when the Allies are on the edge of total defeat at the hands of the Nazis. Hitler’s armies had successfully conquered Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium, and France was set to surrender at any moment.
Enter Churchill, a man who becomes prime minister after Neville Chamberlain resigns due to his incompetent handling of the war. At this moment, Churchill is a man different from the one we know today. He is marked by previous mistakes and no one, especially not King George V (Ben Mendelsohn), wants Churchill as the prime minister.
Surrounded by doubt and rivals, with only the support of his strong wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his loyal assistant Ms. Layton (Lily James), Churchill faces the seemingly unbeatable Nazi war machine. Many in Churchill’s government want him to enter into peace talks with Hitler, despite the recent failure of the Munich Agreement two years earlier. This tense atmosphere provides a thrilling backdrop and keeps us engaged until the credits.
Oldman, who underwent extensive makeup to play the role, brings Churchill to life. In past Churchill films, the filmmakers often make the mistake of embellishing Churchill as this titan-esque, powerful figure. It’s easy to make this mistake considering Churchill led Britain through its gravest moments against Germany without any significant support from other nations.
But at the end of the day, Churchill is just as flawed and challenged as the rest of us. Throughout the film, Churchill is on the verge of a breakdown, as he faces a superior enemy, is stuck with incompetent allies and surrounded by cowardly advisers. Oldman was instrumental in portraying Churchill: a frustrated person in an impossible situation who, as history has shown, not only survived, but thrived.