Originally published in West Hawaii Today, December 14, 2017
If the Oscars were today (and they are not) Gary Oldman would win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Winston Churchill in, “Darkest Hour.” A performance of considerable weight and nuance inside a film of tremendous historical significance.
“Darkest Hour” tells the story of the complicated early days leading up to World War II and Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain. A defining time for the legendary statesman who not only opposed negotiations with Nazi Germany but gave some of the most memorable speeches in history both in front of the nation and behind the scenes.
A drinker, a smoker, a husband, and a tyrant in many ways, but always a determined human being who looked at the Nazi invasion of Europe and said nothing will work other than fighting against the world largest army. America was still non-committal but trying to be helpful, and as Britain decides to go it alone this film puts the audience in the middle of some of the most important decisions in history. (See Chris Nolan’s “Dunkirk” as an example and companion film).
Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride And Prejudice, Hannah) a champion of period films, has created a thrilling work of underground tunnels, backstage politics, and confrontational dialogue that elevates what happened in such an authentic way you can only cut the tension with a shot of whisky and a fine cigar. His direction is spot on and features Oscar level cinematography, wonderful music score, and surprising intimacy.
It’s also an intentionally wordy film, because at the time words held people accountable and Churchill was a master of persuasion. “You cannot fight a tiger when your head is in it’s mouth,” he says, and he damn well means it.
Gary Oldman (Sid & Nancy, The Dark Knight, Immortal Beloved, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has been a world class actor since 1979 and to say this is his finest hour is saying something indeed, but it’s true. The smaller stature actor is unrecognizable as the larger than life figure but never wavers or falls into gimmick. He lives, breathes, smokes, and laughs as Churchill and I defy you to find a better male leading performance this year. He’s that good.
Look for a fine performance by Kristen Scott Thomas (Four Weddings And A Funeral, The English Patient, The Horse Wisperer) as Clementine Churchill, and Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella, Baby Driver) in a strong significant role as his personal secretary who witnessed an uncanny amount of professional and emotional moments with her boss. She is a special actress playing a special part.
But, this is Oldman’s film and he carries it with such detailed certainty it’s even a cut above Lithgow’s wonderful portrayal on, “The Crown,” or Albert Finney in, ”The Gathering.” Oldman’s performance in, “Darkest Hour,” is one for the history books.
- Gary Cogill
The Pairing: Right Bank Bordeaux
Larger than life, with an appetite that matched, Winston Churchill was notoriously known as a lover of libations. Starting his day with German white wine, followed by a dram or two of whiskey, gin martinis, nightly Champagne and Claret, and an end to the evening with brandy, Churchill enjoyed a good drink. As we are in the holiday season, toasting this week’s film with a classic Bordeaux, ideal to pair with your holiday beef roast, Kalua pork or laulau, will give you an idea of what to bring to your Festivus dinner. Though it was fashionable to call Bordeaux Claret in Churchill’s time, it was simply a red blend from the region. I am a fan of Right Bank Bordeaux, blending large percentages of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly Chateau Lassegue “Les Cadrans de Lassegue” Saint Emilion Grand Cru ($37) from winemaker Pierre Seillan. The wine opens with lilac, wildflower and soft herbal aromas, followed by blackberry, black plum, tobacco and earthy forest floor notes.
- Hayley Hamilton Cogill