Darkest Hour (2017)

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane,

Directed by: Joe Wright

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

The year is 1940. Hitler's forces have spread across Europe like a virus, crushing opposing armies beneath the unstoppable might of their attack. 300,000 British troops are trapped in Dunkirk, facing obliteration. The government is divided, faith in the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, at an all-time low.

Who you gonna call?

Winston Churchill, of course.

And who you gonna call to play this iconic character, whose gruff voice and rotund figure must be among the most familiar in the world?

Why Gary Oldman, of course, the skinny cockney with the power to transform himself into other people as if shrugging on a suit. And come to think of it, who better to direct the film than Joe Wright, whose Dunkirk scenes in Atonement were jaw-dropping?

Kristin Scott Thomas as Clemmie and Gary Oldman as Churchill in Darkest Hour

But Darkest Hour is really all about Oldman. He OWNS this film. He is simply superb. Even if the entire film were garbage (which it isn't) it would be worth watching for his performance alone. With his drooping bulldog jowls, stooped shoulders and brisk, shuffling, stomping gait, Gary Oldman is gone, and in his place is Winston Churchill. Only the actor's expressive blue eyes are recognisable. And the voice, the brusque, clipped tones spitting out some of the most famous phrases since Shakespeare, sounds absolutely spot on. Hellooo, Oscar calling...

Untrusted and disliked, it is up to Churchill to save the day as Britain faces its, well, darkest hour. Outgunned and outflanked, armed mainly with rhetoric and passion, will he negotiate for peace with Hitler or fight him on the beaches? Well, I think we all know the answer to that one...

I don't know enough about the history of the Second World War to work out how much of Darkest Hour is fact and how much fiction. One scene in particular, when our hero impulsively boards the tube and chats to the common people (a sturdy bunch of jolly, tear-in-the-eye-proud cockneys all up for sticking it to Hitler of course), signals that we are definitely watching a story, not a documentary. Either way this is a fiercely absorbing movie – who knew a bunch of stuffed suits talking to each other in a bunker could be so fascinating? (Probably anyone who's seen Downfall, but there you go...)

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill takes a ride on the tube

To add to the joys of this film we have the gorgeous Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill's wife Clemmie, as witty and acerbic as she is practical and supportive, the only person who can banter with the big man on his own level. And we have the delights of corgi spotting every time King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) is on the screen – what more could you want from a movie?

Spot the corgi: Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI and Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour

Moving, gripping, brilliantly paced and at times very funny, Darkest Hour is a simply splendid film. A victory indeed...

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