Gary Oldman, who portrays Winston Churchill in the new film “Darkest Hour,” said that a statue of the late British leader is often encased “in a box” during protests in London’s Parliament Square, not far from where the prime minister conferred in his underground bunkers with England’s war cabinet during the Second World War.
Despite seeing the United Kingdom through the war, Churchill’s legacy remains complicated due to his initial opposition to women’s suffrage and his backing of the notorious failure at Gallipoli during the First World War. His statue near Parliament has often been defaced with graffiti.
But might his statue, like those of Confederate generals in the U.S., be faced with removal?
“Where does it end?” Mr. Oldman told The Washington Times during a District stop to promote “Darkest Hour,” which opens Dec. 8, of the revisiting of historical figures.
The Oscar-nominated actor, 59, also referred to the Peace Cross memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland, erected in 1925 in tribute to Prince George’s County Maryland’s World War I dead.
“There is a petition to take down this cross. So if you take that down, then do you go to Arlington” to remove military burial crosses, Mr. Oldman asked.
But regardless of how some in the U.K. feel about Churchill’s stance on women voting, his saving the island from the terrors of Hitler’s forces cannot be denied. In “Darkest Hour,” Mr. Oldman portrays the statesman right as he becomes the prime minister in 1940, just as the Nazi machine is preparing to bomb London.
“That is the same willpower that stood up to those trying to sue for peace in May 1940,” said filmmaker Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pan”), who directed “Darkest Hour.”
Mr. Wright said that it was perhaps Churchill’s own flaws and earlier mistakes, Gallipoli among them, that enabled him to see the Nazi threat for what it was — and to realize that appeasing Hitler was a mistake.
“He was in Parliament for 50 years. And to my mind, he made some mistakes,” Mr. Wright said. “His opposition to women’s suffrage being one of them, his opposition to Indian independence being another.
“But I certainly have made terrible mistakes in my life, and I wouldn’t want to be the first one to throw stones.”
“I’m sure at times he was absolutely insufferable to be around [and] at [other] times [was] the life and soul of the party,” Mr. Oldman said. “He didn’t waddle in the sort of mystery and self-pity of it. He tried to pick himself up and learn” from his errors.
Kristen Scott Thomas co-stars in “Darkest Hour” as Churchill’s wife, Clementine. Mr. Oldman contends that it was her steadfast support of the prime minister that enabled him to see his country through the Blitz and the subsequent plans to strike back at the Nazis.
“Would there be one without the other?” Mr. Oldman says of the Churchills’ 56-year marriage. “You do get the sense that it was really a very passionate [marriage]. And for my money, I think that Kristin is the best Clemmie, certainly for my money.”
But is Mr. Oldman the best Churchill for his own money? The past two years has seen not less than three world-class actors assay the role of the British statesman, including John Lithgow as a post-war Churchill in the Netflix series “The Crown” and Brian Cox as the haunted prime minister on the eve of D-Day in “Churchill.”
“We really should start a club,” Mr. Oldman said, adding that he has acted in plays with Mr. Cox.
He jests that he is even territorial about his “Darkest Hour” co-stars having acted with “other” Churchills.
“Halifax, played by Stephen Dillane, and I discovered after we had made the movie that he was in fact in ‘The Crown’ in scenes with John Lithgow,” Mr. Oldman said. “I wrote [him] and said, ‘You never told me that you’d worked with another Churchill.’ And he wrote back and said, ‘I only work with Churchills.’”
“He’s arguably the greatest Briton who ever lived,” Mr. Oldman said, “and you’re stepping into the shoes of Albert Finney and all those other [previous actors]. To me it was like a Falstaff or a King Lear. It was that challenging.”
“I believe with Churchill, our greatest flaws are also our greatest attributes,” Mr. Wright said. “I find that to be quite an interesting paradox.”
Mr. Wright also avoided watching other actors’ take on Churchill — including Mr. Finney in “The Gathering Storm” and Brendan Gleeson in “Into the Storm” — when prepping “Darkest Hour” so that he and Mr. Oldman could give the new film the freshest possible take on its subject.
“I try to enter each situation with as open a mind and heart as possible,” he said, “which is to meet them and find out about what they love and where they come from. Churchill I found to be a character full of longing and melancholy and fear. And I think, because of those factors, also someone of enormous wit and energy and vitality that drove him to an extraordinary life.”
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