With the saying of “…how many ways can you…” ringing in our expectant ears of this latest Churchill characterisation screenplay, this along with the knowledge that that portrayal of this most singularly recognisable statesman of 20th century British history is knowingly played by an actor required to be plastered in prosthetics, just how plausible was Oldman as Winston and why, for us, was his supposedly critically acclaimed performance clouded by comparisons with the far more convincing Cox of mere month’s before?
When it comes to motion picture subject matter, nothing quite matches the storyscape of World War Two, clearly a period in his more momentous than most, as much here in Britain & for the British, as it is for the French in France or in Germany for the German’s, while the mere fact that the word “world” suggests that it was much farther & further reaching than just ours & Europe’s shores is an accurate singular assessment of the impact this most destructive of decades of the 20th century. Indeed, we are certainly not in the business of playing down the profoundness of a period and its importance for generation that lived through the atrocities such as “the blitz”, “occupation”, “POW capture” and, especially, “the holocaust”, all of which have been encapsulated in memorable movies as well as televisual documentaries and even comedy programmes, such is the scope of the subject. Yet, when it comes to a small handful of pivotal moment & people in this period, particularly from a British perspective, we all too often find the story being told over & over again which, as the distance between now & then grows relentlessly in length, we find ourselves not just in comparison mode but questioning the reasoning why the film producers & directors are continuing to tell the tale and questioning the castings of the actors playing, not least the most recognisable stateman of the time, well this side of the channel at least, Winston Churchill. And in the space of under a year, we have had a plethora of motion pictures set in or depicting aspects of the second world war, think “Dad’s Army”, “Dunkirk”, “Pegasus Bridge”, “Their Finest Hour” and, naturally “Churchill”, the latter very much the nemesis to this latest offering, for which the comparisons are entirely culpable However, while in this awards season of screenplay’s, it is the lead actor of “Darkest Hour”, Gary Oldman, who is grabbing all the headlines & scooping accolades aplenty, as in our last film review, that of a certain & so called billboard blockbuster, we find ourselves swimming strongly against the tide of opinion, her both on Oldman’s performance & his plausibility.
Now we really shouldn’t need to provide a synopsis of the storyline of “Darkest Hour”, as it is one that has been depicted, documented & dramatized so often that, excepting certain elements of the intricate detail, is pretty much common knowledge, a chronicle of Churchill in charge (or otherwise) of boosting the morale and steering the political fortunes & successes of a nation fighting the evil Nazism. And so we have yet another screenplay that tells a story that feels so familiar that it offers nothing new, rather provides too many opportunities to pick holes its is pictorial, while unavoidably comparing it to the film which, in our opinion, stands much more proudly as an individual portrayal of Winston at his weaker influence self. Indeed, you only have to look at the two actors in the flesh to realise this, as Cox in “Churchill” against Oldman in “Darkest Hour” is chalk & cheese in stature, the former much closer to the thicker set & bodily likeness of his character than the latter, the mere fact that you go into “Darkest Hour” knowing that Oldman looks nothing like Winston Churchill, so needs extensive make-up & prosthetics to pull it off. And while we acknowledge the hard work required in this transformation and thus accept that the result is remarkable, given how much closer Cox is to Churchill, remains sufficient to sway our opinion in his favour. Moreover “Churchill” as a cinematic piece, wipes the floor with “Darkest Hour” which, by that very first word in its title, is dark in so many ways, the parliamentary scenes lacking both depth & definition, while the outlandish scene when Oldman’s Churchill takes a tube & talks to members of the public, is so far fetched from truthful reality, its ridiculous. And we are not the only ones to pick up on this implausible set piece authenticity which adds to overall average rating for this film, while, despite all the awards coming Oldman’s way, we remain unconvinced compared to Cox, who cleverly made Churchill his own; he didn’t try an accent yet was far better in acting the role through his stance & his facial expressions, perhaps given he didn’t have to carry anywhere near an extensive make-over as Oldman. So, of the two, “Churchill” gets our vote over “Darkest Hour” in virtually every department, Miranda Richardson a far better Clementine than Kristin Scott Thomas, as was James Purefoy over Ben Mendelson as King George VI, while the incredible connection between Churchill & his lifetime South African friend & fellow stateman, Smuts, makes for a much more engaging movie in “Churchill” than the dark, dank & at times dreary “Darkest Hour”. (DISCO MATT)