UTTERLY preposterous as this sounds, Gary Oldman is so good as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour that you feel as if you have watched a two-hour fly-on-the-wall documentary.
It is not just the gait (charging through Westminster’s bombproof basement corridors as if into a gale-force wind with his hands behind his back) nor the mesmerising throb of his bottom lip as he is wrestling with his conscience – undoubtedly careful studies done by the actor in order for him to nail this hefty part in every manner.
Under the pounds of prosthetics, Oldman skilfully reveals the many layers of the World War II Prime Minister and the effect truly having the full weight of the world on his rounded shoulders wreaked upon him.
We begin before the top job has been bestowed. His predecessor Neville Chamberlain had lost the confidence of the House of Commons and sights were set on a replacement accepted by both sides.
Churchill’s promotion was not entirely popular with his party. He was seen as an unknown quantity, a non-conformist, an embarrassment, a renegade who even scared King George. However, it quickly becomes clear the plan by the Tory heavyweights was to use him as a puppet to help broker peace negotiations. And he is under pressure.
This was a man who had Scotch with his poached eggs and who barked at his secretary (doe-eyed Lily James) when she did not double-space his speeches. But, with a little encouragement from his beloved Clementine (a part made for Kirsten Scott-Thomas and played with a lilac curl and deliciously-plummy English), he softens his growl and we see the not insubstantial underbelly as he faces decisions no one would want to contemplate. We see a frailty, a vulnerability, a human.
He listens to his monarch, he feels his gut and his first ride on a tube train changes the course of history (I do so hope that happened) to rouse the resistance and halt the Nazi rampage. And pantomime villain Viscount Halifax gets his just deserts.
Director Joe Wright deserves applause for imbuing the picture with visual delights. Churchill’s sense of isolation and cul-de-sac situations are reflected in moments in a dimly-lit lift, his jowls framed by a peephole window in a door slammed shut.
The echoing tap of the typewriter banging out letters that would add up to alter innumerable lives forever.
A beautiful Dali-esque sequence where an aerial shot of French refugees on the move turns into the soft contours of a boy’s face before the viewer has even clocked what is happening to her perspective. Everything seen through a cloud of cigar smoke; the Palace curtains probably needed a good airing after his visit every Monday lunch-time.
There is time for a slight rousing of triumphalism as some of his most famous lines are given a turn at the dispatch box. Fascinating to learn some of this finest oration was created while either sploshing about in his bath or unleashing his own bomb bay in the aptly-named WC.
I was touched, I was amused, I was enlightened, and I was gripped – despite knowing the outcome. Gary Oldman has been nominated for the best actor Oscar for this piece of cinema. Surely the man to beat – and if he is, his V sign is now well-practised.
You may think Churchill had a British bulldog trailing behind him – and you would be right. He was called Dodo. He also had a poodle called Rufus – the one thing I have in common with him. These breeds sit at number 26 and number 22 respectively in the 100-strong list of Britain’s Favourite Dogs, now available on the ITV Hub.
The show, presented by Sara Cox and her two little white fluffy Maltese and Ben Fogle and his fine Labrador, celebrates the multitude of mutts with which we share our lives.
Highlights include Spice Girl Geri Halliwell being licked by a giant Airedale, Alfie the Heinz 57 playing football, a singing Basenji, a dachshund on wheels, the next generation of German Shepherd police recruits, Boo the burglar-busting Shar-Pei and the reputation of Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Rottweilers being challenged forever.
Even for someone who loves dogs and alliteration, it pushed my limits. But I defy you not to be moved by the last walk of Walnut the whippet at the very least. And Fogle’s determination to use a gate at the beginning is priceless.