Darkest Hour Blu-ray Review: Gary Oldman Gives a Riveting Portrayal as Winston Churchill

A compelling historical drama about standing up for one's beliefs in the face of great adversity.
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Joe Wright's Darkest Hour tells the story of Winston Churchill's first few weeks in office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a tumultuous time as World War II raged in Europe and the leaders of Parliament couldn't agree on the direction to take. Gary Oldman gives a riveting portrayal of Churchill that will long be remembered, It was helped realized by the outstanding make-up work of Kazuhiro Tsuji and his team.

On May 9, 1940, the Labour Party in the British Parliament wants to replace Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) as Prime Minister because of his capitulation to Nazi Germany. The Conservative Party concedes, and after Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), turns down the job, it is offered to Winston Churchill, whose judgment is questioned by some because of his gruff personality, his daily alcohol intake, and military decisions that ended poorly.

The film allows viewers to see the palace intrigue as Churchill works to rally support to fight Hitler and the Nazis from those in Parliament and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). Although he misleads the public in his first radio address, the war is brought home when it is learned that 300,000 troops are trapped at Dunkirk, leading to a civilian fleet being conscripted for a maritime evacuation. (Pairing this with Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk makes for a good double feature.)

With the United States barely offering support, Belgium surrendering and France soon to follow suit, England must prepare for invasion. Churchill finally lets Halifax pursue his goal of peace negotiations with the Nazis, but listening to the people on a subway ride, the people that will likely be the most affected, gives Churchill the strength to persevere.

The video has been given a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of
1.85:1. Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography comes through with great clarity, including low-lit scenes that deliver strong shadow delineation. The earth tomes come through in strong hues. The blacks are inky and don't crush as seen in the suits during opening parliament session where it's suits upon suits in a shadowy room. Not only is the make up on Oldman transformative, it is undetectable under the scrutiny that high definition allows, but the CGI in the subway sequence is noticeable. Very fine texture detail is on display as seen when the King and Churchill have lunch.

The audio is available in Dolby Atmos. On my 7.1 system, the track provides very good ambiance, from phones ringing in the distance in the war room to the hubbub of a full Parliament session. Dialogue is consistently clear and mixed well with the other elements.

Bonus features include a commentary track by Joe Wright; “Into Darkest Hour” (HD, 8 min), a brief making-of with cast and crew; and “Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill” (HD, 4 min), with Oldman and Wright talking about the actor creating the character and Kazuhiro Tsuji talking about the hair and make-up.

Thanks to Gary Oldman's impressive performance, a standout on his already impressive resume, and Anthony McCarten's screenplay, Churchill is a compelling figure in Darkest Hour, not because he's a righteous firebrand that history proved correct, but because of the human moments, from his doubts when he sits alone at home to sharing a a laugh with his secretary. Joe Wright assembled a talented cast and crew to recreate this compelling story about standing up for one's beliefs in the face of great adversity.

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