Actors who transform themselves into historical figures win Oscars. If it’s a famous Brit, all the better. If it’s a famous Brit who battles Nazis, you’re practically a shoo-in. It might not even matter whether the movie is good or not. Add some lush cinematography and a rabble-rousing plot and you can start working on your acceptance speech.
“Darkest Hour” tells the story of the fateful month of May 1940 in the life of newly-minted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). With the Nazi forces having driven the British army to the seas of France in Dunkirk and the Western powers falling around them, efforts in Parliament are underway to attempt peace talks with Hitler. Churchill, knowing this to be a foolish and likely fatal endeavor, must fight to stay strong and continue the war even with such a bleak outlook.
The film is pretty much a vehicle for Oldman’s performance. It’s pretty obvious where the story is going, with the film setting up the unease over Churchill’s ascension, the backstabbing behind him and the threat of annihilation barreling towards Britain. Cue the deep introspective, the theme of nationalism over individual plight, the rousing speech at the end. It’s all very textbook.
This is not to say that “Darkest Hour” is a poor film. It’s a fine film. It hits all of its beats very well, all of the ones you’ve seen before. It’s purpose isn’t to tell an original story that might move you. It’s to display craftsmanship and win Academy Awards.
This is also not to take away from Gary Oldman’s performance. He really is fantastic in the lead role and probably deserves his Oscar. The entire movie is simply a driving force to showcase his acting ability and transformation into Churchill and in so doing, win accolades.
Those who go into “Darkest Hour” know exactly what they’re getting: a period piece that emphasizes strong acting and a forgettable plot. They just shouldn’t expect anything more.