Gary Oldman’s acting career is one that has taken many different forms and tones. Dating back to his first role in 1982 in a film called Remembrance, he has taken the form of some of the most interesting, intriguing and sometimes chaotic characters to ever grace the silver screen. Sid & Nancy. JFK. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. True Romance. The Professional. The Scarlet Letter. Murder In The First. The Fifth Element. Hannibal. The Book Of Eli. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Lawless. For this writer, there are three roles that quickly come to mind when thinking of Oldman: his turn as a driven Russian terrorist hijacker opposite Harrison Ford’s US President in Air Force One, the devoted member of the Order of the Phoenix, Sirius Black, in the Harry Potter franchise, and this writer’s absolute favorite, Gotham City’s Police Commissioner James Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy.
Adding to that will be the role that most likely will give him his first Oscar victory: his turn as embattled British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.
Darkest Hour is set in the early days of World War II. After Neville Chamberlain has been removed from office due to his misjudging on how to handle Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill has been chosen as his successor. Quickly, Churchill is at odds with many in Parliament. His determination to take the fight to the Germans goes against a number of those who believe he should seek peace and negotiate with Hitler. As the debates grow dire due to the situation at Dunkirk, Churchill must decide what steps must be taken to not only rescue their stranded brethren, but to keep his resolve and win over his government, and his people, with his stance on opposing Hitler.
Gary Oldman’s performance as the British Prime Minister is nothing short of excellence. From his first appearance on screen, Oldman embodies his character with every aspect of his being. The mannerisms, the tone of his voice, the looks he gives, the way he smokes his cigar and his hobble down a street or hallway corridor are exact copies of one of England’s most memorable figures. The amazing prosthetic and wig makeup artists on this production help to conceal any easily noticeable features of Oldman and allow the audience to temporarily forget that an actor is on stage and believe that they are seeing a historical figure in action. It is the perfect blend of an acting legend’s superb craft and the talented, detail-focused members of a makeup department.
The supporting cast in this film wonderfully accent Oldman’s presence in this story. Veteran Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) is perfectly cast as Churchill’s wife Clemmie, supporting his decisions while also keeping him in check when need be. Lily James (Baby Driver, Downton Abbey) plays Elizabeth Layton, the young woman assigned as Churchill’s personal secretary. Her performance would have to be the next favorite in this film. Appearing as nervous and scared on her first day on the job, Elizabeth adapts to Winston’s tirades and quirks so much so that she becomes an important confidant to the Prime Minister. James’ performance is superb, playing off of Oldman’s character perfectly and holding her own in their scenes together.
Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Hanna) from a screenplay by Anthony McCarten (The Theory Of Everything), Darkest Hour is a riveting cinematic portrayal of an important moment in history. From the first scene to the final image, the film captures your attention by its crisp direction, character-focused script and possibly the greatest performance by a seasoned legend who has mastered his craft. The production has earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Actor (Gary Oldman) and Best Picture. For the lovers of historical dramas and superb acting, this film is a must-see.