There’s a point in “Darkest Hour” where you want it to suddenly merge with “Dunkirk.”
Since the two exist in the same period of time, it’d be a natural. Even better? The edit would give “Darkest Hour” some much-needed action.
Set in the early days of World War II, it’s largely static, showing Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) weighing his options despite political pressure. He has plenty of one-on-one meetings and he smokes an inordinate number of cigars.
When he finally has to address Parliament regarding his actions – victory, not retreat – he does so with the support of citizens, folks he encountered on the underground train.
There, we get the most humanity out of Churchill and a real sense of what the job must have been like.
Throughout other parts, Director Joe Wright plays this fairly static. He uses camera movement to give it some action but, easily, “Darkest Hour” could be done on a stage and have an even greater impact.
Thankfully, Oldman disappears into the role, becoming the politician we remember from newsreels. A superb makeup job (it should win the Oscar) helps him become the larger-than-life man who stood up to Adolf Hitler.
Glimpses of his personal life are sprinkled here and there, even though Kristin Scott Thomas doesn’t get enough to do as his wife.
More prominent: Lily James as his fast-typing assistant, able to capture his words no matter where he goes (even in a car).
She has a story to tell, too, but Wright doesn’t expand his palette to include it. She’s merely a trigger for Churchill’s humanity. Likewise, Ben Mendelsohn’s King George and Ronald Pickup’s Neville Chamberlain.
Using newsreel-like footage and a number of claustrophic scenes in strategy meetings, the director gives us a good sense of the times.
Oldman, though, carries every minute of this, using his voice to indicate urgency and concern.
While “Darkest Hour” nabbed an Oscar nomination in the Best Picture category, it doesn’t really belong there, particularly since “Dunkirk” is more moving and telling.
This is very much a one-man show. Oldman handles it well but it could have been the kind of big-screen biography that does more than extract a particular moment in time.