From A.O. Scott’s 11.21 review of Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour: “The challenges facing Winston Churchill are of lethal seriousness, but the key to his effectiveness is his capacity for pleasure. He enjoys the push and pull of politics, the intellectual labor of problem-solving and the daily adventure of being himself.
“In grasping that joy, Gary Oldman partakes of it and passes it along to the audience. He is having fun, playing the part in every sense. And his blustery, blubbery charm, backed as it is by a sly and acute intelligence, is hard to resist.”
From HE 9.2.17 review: “Churchill is winningly played by Gary Oldman in a colorful, right-down-the-middle, straight-over-the-plate performance. Will this flamboyantly twitchy turn result in a Best Actor nomination? You betcha, but honestly? Oldman has delivered in a classically actor-ish, heavily-made-up way that could have been performed 30 or 50 years ago. There will be no ignoring Oldman’s work here, but it’s not wedded to the present-day zeigeist. It’s a golden-oldie performance, but delivered fresh with plenty of zing.”
Scott: “Like The King’s Speech, Darkest Hour is a serviceable enough historical drama. But like Dunkirk, it falls back on an idealized notion of the English character that feels, in present circumstances, less nostalgic than downright reactionary.”
HE: “Darkest Hour is a stirringly square, well-handled audience movie…it feels familiar and well-trod (how could it not be given all the recent Churchill portrayals?) but rousingly straightforward.”
Scott:: “Rather than invite the audience to think about the difficulties of democratic governance at a time of peril, the filmmakers promote passivity and hero-worship, offering not so much a Great Man Theory as a great man fetish. Their sham populism is most evident in a ridiculous scene in which Churchill rides the London Underground and meets The People, a motley mass of stiff upper lips and brimming eyes.”
HE response, written just now: The London Underground scene may be “ridiculous,” but it works. It’s the most emotionally satisfying scene in the whole film. It’s the only scene that made me sit up in my seat and go “this is probably bullshit from a historical perspective, but it’s connecting.”
Comment thread follow-up: It’s a kind of fantasy sequence but it works all the same. It’s theatrically hokey and perhaps even simple-minded on its own terms, but it’s (a) shrewdly timed, arriving just before Churchill’s grand climax inside Parliament, and (b) more importantly delivers what we want to hear after listening to cagey, measured expressions of political calculation for 90 or 100 minutes beforehand. It’s a pure-heart, resolve-of-the-people moment (“Never!”). It feels, yes, like a dream sequence, almost in the manner of a Rodgers & Hammerstein interlude. But emphatic emotion is what Darkest Hour needs at this third-act juncture, and as much as you may dislike the calculation, it works.