More than two and a half years after Gary Oldman took home the Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the Joe Wright-directed and Anthony McCarten-penned Darkest Hour, a History Channel writer is suing the actor, NBCUniversal and others connect to the movie for allegedly ripping off parts of his script.
“[Ben Kaplan] spent years developing, writing and refining Churchill,” says the complaint, seeking a jury trial, filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court. “Several versions of the script for Churchill were distributed to members of film industry in Los Angeles County, California,” the detailed breach of implied contract action adds. “It was understood by members of the film industry that Mr. Kaplan had created a script for a film about Winston Churchill and was planning on turning that script into a feature film.”
“Defendants’ wrongful conduct includes using numerous specific elements and ideas ideas from Mr. Kaplan’s Churchill script for their own film, Darkest Hour,” the suit (read it here) from lawyers at Costa Mesa’s Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis, LLP claims. The complaint seeks an injunction on the film, which grossed $150 million in global box office, and a range of damages including all the money the defendants made from the film, which was released by Focus Features in November 2017 and garnered six Oscar nominations including Best Picture.
Oldman, NBCUniversal Media, producer and Oldman manager Douglas Urbanski, Working Title Film Group, Focus Features and Oldman’s APA agent Jim Osborne are all named as defendants. Oddly, multi-Oscar nominee McCarten, who is credited with writing the script, is not.
“Defendants had access to three Churchill scripts prepared by Mr. Kaplan,” the 20-page complaint says. “The first was a May 13, 2013, draft that was shared with Mr. Urbanski and Mr. Osborne,” it claims. “The second, a revised script dated July 17.2013, was sent by Mr. Kaplan’s agent to Working Title and by Mr. Lamb to Mr. Osborne for Mr. Oldman and Mr. Urbanski. The third, a further revised script, dated December 20, 2014, was shared with Mr. Urbanski, Mr. Osborne, and Mr. Oldman. Upon information and belief, one or more of these scripts was shared in whole or in part among Defendants, including Universal and Focus Features.”
As expected, the suit lists several supposed instances of similarity between the Darkest Hour and Churchill scripts, some of which are very specific and some of which are pretty standard stuff regarding Churchill’s legend, both fact and fiction. More than most legal actions of a related nature, this particular suit also spools out a specific series of meetings, email exchanges, and even a March 9, 2015 proposed longform contract.
What it lacks is Oldman ever agreeing he would be in the Churchill film from the WWII In HD writer and producer Charles Lamb, despite the plaintiff and the latter’s desire for that to be the case. What it also lacks is any meeting or even mention of industry vet McCarten, which is truly odd.
Also, as I noted in a recent story about a similar type of suit against Melissa McCarthy and Warner Bros over the 2018 film Life of the Party, faced with a slew of these ripoffs cases even on a light week, LASC judges have a tendency to put projects side-by-side and, in the spotlight, often determine that comparisons at best come down to general themes and plot devices. Often the plaintiff is left coming up short – which is a darkest hour all its own.
NBCUniversal declined comment on the suit when contacted by Deadline. We also reached out McCarten and APA but did not hear back at the time of publication.