Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour arrived at the Toronto Film Festival as one of the most anticipated entrants in this year’s Oscar race, having piqued curiosity with the decision to cast the lithe 59-year-old Gary Oldman as amply proportioned statesman Winston Churchill. Taking place entirely within a six-month window in 1940, the film sees Churchill foisted on his own party—and even his own country, to the annoyance of Britain’s King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn)—by a parliament tired of the tarnished Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (a very dignified Ronald Pickup). Presented almost as a sombre superhero origin story, Darkest Hour then details how Churchill won round his enemies—and there were quite a few—by standing up to Adolf Hitler and refusing to appease him with the various emasculating peace deals that his rivals had been touting.
Sitting down at Deadline’s Toronto Studio, Oldman revealed that he was excited and terrified by the job, which required some 200 hours of prosthetic makeup by genius artist Kazuhiro Tsuji. “I think I was just a bit afraid to take it,” he said, “which is actually a nice feeling.” He compared the experience to getting a call from his agent saying that he was going to play Hamlet. “You go, ‘Oh my God, am I? Wow, I’m playing Hamlet!’” he laughed. “And then you put down the phone and go, ‘Oh fuck, I’m playing Hamlet…’” While his performance is certainly revelatory, Oldman found himself in good company in Wright’s handsomely mounted yet surprisingly intimate character study, with excellent supporting performances from the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife Clementine and the usually rather oikish Mendelsohn scrubbing up nicely as the UK’s elegant monarch.
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