The best film of its kind since Spielberg's "Lincoln", this riveting film focused on Winston Churchill's first days in office is a knockout.
DARKEST HOUR also features, for me, the best performance by an actor I've seen since Daniel Day Lewis became Abraham Lincoln.
Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight, Sid & Nancy, Bram Stoker's Dracula) is almost unrecognizable as Churchill.
We watch as Churchill becomes the unlikely choice as UK Prime Minister in the early days of WWII.
Hitler is encroaching on all sides, current PM Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, excellent) has lost the confidence of his government and prepared no defense as Hitler's forces rage across Belgium and France.
Churchill rarely spends a moment without a cigar and a cocktail in hand. He sees King George (Ben Mendelsohn of "Rogue One" in a great performance) as a bother, has little regard for politics but a remarkable passion for defeating Hitler and inspiring the masses.
Oldman is fantastic as Churchill. Subtle tics and bold mannerisms are employed but never annoying. It's a big performance for a big personality. Oldman infuses the man with so much intensity, humor and determination, it's like watching a "Rocky" movie set in the London war rooms.
Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Four Weddings and a Funeral) is great as Churchill's wife, who understands her role in English society but serves as Winston's rock.
Lily James (Baby Driver) is Churchill's new secretary Miss Layton, who serves as a clever storytelling device and our window into Churchill. As she first meets and then grows to understand the man, we do as well in a smart screenplay by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything).
Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) is in great form. For a film set mostly in dark meeting rooms and palaces, it feels expansive, with Wright mixing in just enough battle scenes and world views to open up the experience.
The last half of the film also deals in detail with the civilian naval rescue at Dunkirk, when nearly all of the English forces were stranded on the beaches with no way home. It's fascinating to see a different, tactical angle of the battle after seeing the story told so brilliantly by Christopher Nolan in this year's "Dunkirk".
You'll cheer for Churchill. It's a testament to the filmmakers that they can create such suspense when you know the outcome of the story.
Many famous Sir Winston quotes are delivered perfectly by Oldman, including his passionate plea as other politicians dithered with talk of sitting down for peace talks with the madman Hitler. “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”
This is Oldman's best performance of his career and I'd bet the house on a Best Actor Oscar come next year's ceremony.
Standing alongside Nolan's "Dunkirk" in every respect, DARKEST HOUR gets an A+ and is one of the best films of the year, firmly in my Top 5 of 2017.