Call it a case of unfortunate timing, but there are three scenes of Churchill, as played by Gary Oldman, behaving in a way that we are now calling sexual harassment of an employee. The first shows his young, pretty secretary (Lily James) ushered into his bedroom where he dictates to her from his bed; upon finishing, he throws back the covers and tosses his bare legs up in the air as he propels himself out - the camera moves to her shocked reaction. The second has him dictating to her in what looks like a dressing room - we see his bare legs exiting the bathroom as he announces that he is coming out of his shower in a state of nature - she hurries away. The third has him taking a seat next to her at her desk and staring at her intensely; after a few moments she squirms uncomfortably and asks if anything is wrong - he states that he is just looking at her.
There have been three Churchills released within a few months of each other - John Lithgow in The Crown, Brian Cox in Churchill and now Oldman who has received the most praise. He is the least recognizable, having been outfitted in major prosthetic get-ups and ample padding and he plays the man as louche, drunk and unforgivably cantankerous. Although there may be biographical justification for some of this, it is played so broadly and noisily that we see too little of the calm, controlled statesman and heroic leader whom many consider the outstanding figure of the twentieth century. I can only assume that this is what director Joe Wright had in mind since Oldman has proven to be a talented actor in the past and the one-dimensional portrayal he gives us here may be due to editorial decisions in the cutting room. Both Darkest Hour and Churchill show Winston as an outlier challenging the conventional political and military advice for the evacuation at Dunkirk and the landing in Normandy. Both show his stubborness, his persuasiveness and his ability to summon his talent for oratory to instill enormous courage in his constituents Of the three, only Lithgow achieves the dignity that is missing from the other two characterizations.
Darkest Hour offers the most disturbing portrayal of a man subject to depression, addicted to alcohol and tobacco and temperamentally unable or unwilling to control his outbursts. The film reminds us of his parentage - Winston’s father died of tertiary syphillis and his beautiful mother was undoubtedly “too much loved.” The decibel level of this movie is high, Oldman’s performance is histrionic in the extreme and we leave the theater wondering how to forgive him his excesses when they have filled the screen for more than two hours. Though it’s worth seeing Darkest Hour for its historic content, I prefer the more controlled performance by Brian Cox and urge you to see Churchill to and judge for yourself
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