Gary Oldman’s Academy Award-nominated performance as Winston Churchill debuts in the high definition format in Darkest Hour(Universal Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 125 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $34.98).
Director Joe Wright offers a historically infused, wartime drama tracking the first five weeks of Britain’s inspirational prime minister as Nazi Germany attempts to overrun Europe.
The story exposes the often-caustic as well sarcastic personality of Churchill as he navigates unfriendly political waters, orchestrates a near insane plan to rescue British troops at Dunkirk, and enjoys quieter moments with friends and family.
Although the film delivers a very dire and foreboding plot, Mr. Wright keeps some humor throughout with crisp and witty dialogue.
Viewers will actually laugh out loud at a handful of tension-relieving moments such as Churchill’s wife Clementine responding to her insomniac husband’s gruff “leave me alone” with “the opportunity for doing so passed a long time ago,” or King George VI retorting to Neville Chamberlain’s assertion that Churchill is occasionally right with “well even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”
Besides Mr. Oldman’s amazing transformation, due to his acting chops and makeup work by Kazuhiro Tsuji, stand-out performances include Kristin Scott Thomas as his level-headed spouse, Lily James as his devoted secretary Elizabeth Layton, Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI and Ronald Pickup as the former Prime Minister Chamberlain.
Historians might cry foul with some of the made-up scenes such as Churchill meeting with citizens in the subway, but the spirit of the time period and the man are compelling throughout.
The full-screen presentation in high definition also offers a great way to study the varied and stylistic lighting choices made by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel.
Tinted color pallets, sometimes near monochromatic, help define the work here as he orchestrates lighting precision like a conductor.
Take for example an early shot of Churchill in bed as he uses a match to light one of his familiar cigars. A literal burst of flame like an ignited gas leak washes over the screen near him before ever revealing his features.
Or, such enlightening moments as an overhead lamp providing a funnel of illumination during his phone conversation with U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a red glow illuminating Churchill’s face as he reads a speech during a live radio broadcast, slivers of light cutting at Churchill as he walks toward a meeting with King George, and the light of a projected image bouncing off of Chamberlin’s head.
Suffice it to report, Mr. Oldman’s mesmerizing portrayal in “Darkest Hour” could easily have lent itself to a much, much longer movie. In fact, I would easily watch an entire mini-series of this Churchill in action.
Now, immediately after watching “Darkest Hour,” I suggest popping in director Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster “Dunkirk” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, $19.74) to learn what was happening to the troops and the boats while Churchill fought for Britain’s survival.
And, for further immersion, check out Bryan Cox as “Churchill” (Cohen Media Group, $30.99) to learn about the prime minister’s travails around the time of the Normandy invasion.
Best extras: A scant four minutes with Mr. Oldman on playing the great prime minister and only a brief, eight-minute overview of the production was disappointing for featurettes.
Thankfully, viewers get the director to sit down for an optional commentary track.
Mr. Wright offers a methodical look at the movie, discussing its history-rich story, key characters, scene pacing, locations, the use of humor as a defense mechanism, the movie’s fictional moments and the four weeks of rehearsals with the actors.
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