“It’s a movie about … the importance of language in our democratic system,” says “Darkest Hour” director Joe Wright about the themes that interested him in telling the story of famed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Leading England through the Second World War, Churchill (played in the film by Gary Oldman) used “the power of words to change and indeed shape the course of history,” but just as important to the story is Churchill’s self-doubt. The filmmaker adds, “Without the self-examination that Churchill goes through his policies would be superficial.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Wright above.
“Darkest Hour” is set during the early days of Churchill’s leadership, immediately following Neville Chamberlain‘s much maligned tenure as prime minister. That also places the film in time frame of the Dunkirk evacuation depicted by Christopher Nolan in his 2017 film “Dunkirk” — both films opening in the same year inform each other in a way, and Wright calls that a “lovely piece of synchronicity.” Wright himself also covered the events of the rescue in his 2007 film “Atonement,” which stages a famous five-minute tracking shot on the beaches of Dunkirk. “It was like a continuation of ‘Atonement’ in the sense that … this was the same timeline but just from another angle. It felt like a companion piece to it.”
And in telling the story from Churchill’s point of view Wright was most surprised by the politician’s sense of humor. “I was amazed by how Churchill used humor to negotiate these very difficult times, as we all do. The humor was one of the things that most inspired me. The film is surprisingly funny, which people maybe don’t expect from the title or from the subject matter. There’s a lightness and mischief to Churchill that I really enjoy.”
And of course Wright also enjoyed the performance of Oldman in the lead role. Oldman doesn’t look very much like Churchill until the makeup goes on, but casting a lookalike “wasn’t that appealing,” Wright explains. “I wanted someone who had a kind of intensity, a manic energy, and as we know from Gary’s body of work he’s certainly able to deliver intensity. The essence of a character is always the most important thing; you can fake the exterior but you can’t really fake the interior.”
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