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Gary Oldman: The best of all Churchills in “Darkest Hour”

Updated: Apr 5, 2018


Winston Churchill was appointed prime minister during the early days of World War II. "Darkest Hour" was nominated for six Oscars including Gary Oldman for Best Actor. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD copy; 2017; PG-13 for some thematic material; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4k) and YouTube

Best extra: Commentary with director Joe Wright

2017 WAS the year of Winston Churchill.

First there was John Lithgow’s volatile Emmy winning performance in Season One of “The Crown,” one of eight for the Netflix series. He stole every scene he was in. Then Brian Cox portrayed him as a sozzled manic depressive 96 hours before D-Day, in “Churchill” from producer Nick Taussig and director Jonathan Teplitzky. Don’t blame Cox. Taussig promised a Churchill like no one had ever seen before – and he was.

Now there’s Gary Oldman, who has received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in a leading role for his performance in “Darkest Hour” from director Joe Wright and writer Anthony McCarten. He’s already won a Golden Globe for his performance.

Goldman disappears into the role; it’s the best of his career. And he is accompanied by a brilliant cast that includes Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife Emmie; Lily James as his personal secretary (watch her take notes as Churchill composes from the bath, then scurry as he announces he’s coming out “natural”) and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI.

The film has also been nominated for best picture. Understandably so. Although history dictates the outcome, Wright, McCarten, Oldman and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel have created a tense, compelling drama. “Darkest Hour” is an instant classic, and a brilliant companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.” No one could have predicted it.

“The first thing is you don’t want to ‘play’ [the role],” Oldman says in the Vanity Fair interview on YouTube at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Occasionally, something will come along like the ‘Darkest Hour’ and the prospect of doing it is really scary. Those are often the [parts] that are really worthwhile … the ones that will give you a little bit of fear and a few sleepless nights.”

King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) summons Winston Churchill to Buckingham Palace.
Lily James plays Churchill's personal secretary

Creating a true physical representation was the first step. Oldman looked to archival footage for inspiration. He knew Kazuhiro Tsuji of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy” and asked for his help. Now retired, Tsuji stepped forward. He, also, has received an Academy Award nomination for makeup. David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick, nominated with Tsuji, applied the prosthetics and paint.

“Darkest Hour” starts at the onset of World War II. Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is Prime Minster; his assurances of peace with Hitler have been repeatedly dashed. Germany has overtaken Poland and is invading France. Europe is falling and German troops are headed for Great Britain. Churchill’s political party is dead set against a new war after the horrors of World War I. Winston Churchill, despite the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of WWI, is approached to become PM after Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), who holds similar views as Chamberlain, turns it down.

It might seem Halifax is playing it safe; like others, he knows war is imminent, but doesn’t want to support it. Instead, he’ll badger Churchill’s operations, proposing Italian fascist Mussolini, Hitler’s military ally, broker a truce between England and Germany. The situation is dire; German forces have pushed French and English armies to the beaches at Dunkirk and Calais. Their next step: crossing the Channel. Churchill famously responds with, “You can’t reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”

He must find a way to save as much of the army and navy as he can to protect the island. So we watch the physical, mental and emotional process that went into Churchill’s immortal rally – “Never surrender!”

It took hours to transform Oldman into Churchill


Well, it’s brilliant – both the Blu-ray and Ultra 4K (1.85:1 aspect ratio) from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, as well as the majority of streaming sites. FandangoNow and iTunes provide an option to upgrade to 4K with HDR. Five-time Oscar nominee Bruno Delbonnel, cinematography, projects Churchill’s isolation in longshots and strikingly framed sequences. The world continues as Churchill sits alone, traveling the streets of London by car, and making plans that will affect everyone. We see it again as he stares down at a town from a plane, while a small boy, making a “telescope” with his hand, looks up. Then there are the painterly frames from an elevator or office, all memorably claustrophobic. This is outstanding visual story-telling.

Color is subdued and cool throughout, with shades of warmth; natural earth tones dominate. Delbonnel uses a variety of light sources from the confines of an underground bunker’s small overhead lights to broad shafts of light at No. 10 Downing Street, and skylights at the House of Commons. In one scene, Churchill is bathed in the glaring red of an on-the-air light as he reads his first radio broadcast. Highlights are brighter and more controlled, providing excellent definition and clarity. Endless shadows are deep without losing detail. Sharpness is also well defined from facial features to costume textures.


Dialogue and environmental sound rule the default Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack, with an optional Dolby Atmos track providing somewhat wider range. Again, the film concentrates on the spoken word; aside from an airplane flight, sound effects are minimal. Typewriter effects punctuate several scenes, while extreme close-ups of paper establish a subliminal of ragged nerves. Silence enhances tension. Composer Dario Marianelli, who worked with Wright on “Atonement” and “Pride & Prejudice,” creates a “symphony” of Churchill, accentuating each moment with full-orchestra movements.

Movie Trailer


Joe Wright provides a good, low key commentary highlighting production, timeline, filming on location in England, and casting. Oscar nominations have been awarded to Delbonnel for cinematography; Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer for production design; and Jacqueline Durran for costume design. Each has an opportunity to talk about their inspirations and accomplishments in the short making-of. Oldman describes his experiences in the equally short “Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill.”

iTunes provides a 20-minute exclusive interview hosted by BBC Radio One film critic Rhianna Dhillon, Oldman, Lily James, Scott Thomas and Wright. “It’s an intimate portrait exploring the man behind the myth,” Oldman says. “He’s been portrayed by some brilliant actors, but you must put that noise to one side. Churchill was very much there on the page. There’s an app that has all of his speeches … I had it in my car and I immersed myself. There’s plenty of newsreel footage. What was a revelation to me was the energy of the man. He had

dynamism, and a sparkle like a livewire.”

- Kay Reynolds and Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer



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