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Oldman Triumphant: A Darkest Hour movie review

In contrast with my anti-review of the new Star Wars movie, I was actually looking forward to see the new Churchill move, "Darkest Hour.

First, let's address the obvious:  Gary Oldman is magnificent.  He utterly inhabits the role of Winston Churchill, so much so that you have to keep reminding yourself that it isn't in fact Churchill on the screen.  The mannerisms, expressions, even the pitch of his voice is utterly convincing.  I think entertainment award shows are crap, but he clearly deserves to run the table for this performance.

Alas, the movie itself isn't as good as it could be.

I know I'm a hard sell for historical flicks - I'm too much of a stickler for facts.  To its credit, Darkest Hour does a good job bringing up tidbits of Churchill's life, reminding viewers that he was a deeply flawed politician, compromised by a lifetime of maneuvering and emotional outbursts.

Humans want to see their heroes as perfect role models, but often the great people of history are anything but.  Winston Churchill is a great example of this, from his heavy drinking to extravagant spending and of course his legendary skill as an insult artist he had a lot of vices. 

And then there was the fact that he switched parties twice, and was a bitter and vocal critic of his party leadership for a decade before coming to power.   I hate to bring contemporary politics into a movie review, but people who think Donald Trump is some sort of outrageous exception need to read a little history. 

Indeed, the film does a great job showing just how hated Churchill was by Britain's establishment and particularly his party leadership.  Again, this is not unusual.  Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were both cordially loathed by their party elites.   In Thatcher's case, she was driven from power by an internal coup. 

Without a parliamentary system, the GOP establishment waited until Reagan's second term was up to put the very conventional George H.W. Bush in charge and he also repudiated his predecessor's policies and was thumped by the voters as a result.

All of that duplicity is great and a welcome reminder that politics ain't beanbag and even noble acts can have sordid origins.

I have to problems with the film, one minor and one significant.

The minor problem is the bizarre overhead-view they use at times to capture events as they unfold.  It's odd and disruptive, as well as absurd.  I thought the depiction of a low-level bombing right at night over Calais was particularly daft.  Didn't happen, couldn't have happened - not with those aircraft, not at that stage of the war.  Later on, night tactical raids were possible with flare and pathfinders, but it's as out of place as jets whizzing over Buckingham Palace.

The bigger issue is with the decision to use the conventional Hollywood plot device of our hero speaking to the Common People to find his courage.  Put bluntly, it didn't happen.  I know this is supposed to make Churchill look vulnerable (and therefore complex) but it's garbage.  He had moments of weakness, but on the whole he was a born brawler and relished clashing with his foes.

Other than that, it was a very good movie and quite enjoyable.  Oldman's performance is first-rate and he's set a new standard for actors wanting to portray Churchill.

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