‘Darkest Hour’ Movie Review: Gary Oldman Delivers an Awards-Worthy Performance

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“You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth,” shouts Churchill (Gary Oldman), struggling to convince his political party to stop trying to set up peace talks with Hitler and to continue to fight on in the early days of WWII in the dramatic film, Darkest Hour.

In May 1940 only days after becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill faces his greatest challenge. Churchill must convince his own political party, as well as the rest of Parliament and the Royal Family, to remain steadfast and keep fighting Hitler and Nazi Germany. This is much more difficult than anyone would expect, with France about to fall and Britain’s entire army trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk with no means of escape. (The people are unaware of how dire the situation is because they’ve been kept in the dark about the fact German troops have surrounded the British army.)


With his own political party plotting against him, the Royal King not trusting him, and the threat of invasion being imminent, Winston Churchill must find a way to rally the nation together and carry on fighting against incredible odds.

Gripping, enlightening, and dramatic, Darkest Hour is a powerful film based on historic events. The movie’s both entertaining and educational, with Gary Oldman captivating the audience with his stellar performance. Oldman’s mesmerizing, intriguing, and at times humorous portrayal is all but guaranteed to snag him a well-deserved Oscar nomination.

Lily James delivers an extremely effective and moving performance as Churchill’s new, young secretary, Elizabeth Layton. James shows perfectly how Layton is at first both in awe of Churchill and greatly intimidated by him. However, as she continues to work for Churchill, she becomes dedicated to him and is one of the few people who can get past his gruff and rough exterior to reach his human, and even, sensitive side.

The scenes between Oldman and James are some of the best in the film. There’s a scene in which Churchill can’t stand to have Layton upset but is leery of letting her behind the scenes to learn the true state of the war. She pleads to know the truth, and Churchill surprises both Layton and the audience by allowing her into the war map room (women were strictly forbidden from this room). He reveals the British army is trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk and he’s trying to launch a rescue effort involving civilian boats. The scene’s perfectly staged and played, and one that epitomizes the on screen chemistry between Oldman as Churchill and James as Elizabeth.

The make-up is worthy of an Oscar nod as it completely transforms Oldman into the old British Bulldog fighting to save his country from the tyranny of Nazi Germany. The production design, costumes, and sets are all superb, bringing back to life 1940s Britain so vividly the audience is likely to feel as though they have time traveled back to an age long gone by.

With an unforgettable performance by Gary Oldman as Churchill, Lily James’ exquisite portrayal of Elizabeth Layton, wonderful make-up and very impressive sets, Darkest Hour is one of the best historical films to come around in the last few years. It’s also one of the best pictures of the year, as well.

GRADE: B+

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic material

Running Time: 125 minutes

Directed By: Joe Wright

Darkest Hour Review starring Gar Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in ‘Darkest Hour’ (Photo by Jack English / Focus Features)




Kevin Finnerty

Kevin Finnerty

Professional film critic since 2003 and a member of the San Diego Film Critics Society. Host of “The Movie Guys” radio film review show from 2007 through 2013. Film and television critic for Showbizjunkies.com and a movie buff since 1973.
Kevin Finnerty
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