“Darkest Hour” cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel reveals that he and director Joe Wright were more interested in exploring “the character” of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) than in “the historical moment” surrounding him in their biographical drama. In their visual approach, they wanted to highlight the “duality in Churchill’s character”: he was “a guy who wanted to hide, but wanted to have power as well.” The film follows the newly-appointed British Prime Minister during the early days of World War II, when he must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight against him. It’s now nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Oldman), and Best Cinematography. Watch our exclusive video interview with Delbonnel above.
“Based on this idea that there was a duality in this character, we kind of decided just to play with it,” Delbonnel explains. The veteran cameraman used light and shadows in order to convey this idea. Some scenes “are very dark, and we barely see [Churchill],” whereas other scenes have him “walking into a beam of light.”
He points to the beginning and ending of the movie as examples of how this technique conveys Churchill’s transformation. At the start he is discovered “in his bedroom, and he’s lit by the matches of his cigar … it’s kind of a character coming into light.” Then when he’s giving his final rallying speech to Parliament before entering the war “[it] was about him being in total light, so he’s not able to hide anymore.”
This is Delbonnel’s fifth go-round at the Oscars, after nominations for “Amelie” (2001), “A Very Long Engagement” (2004), “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2009) and “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013). He won the American Society of Cinematographers prize for his work on “A Very Long Engagement” and also competed at the guild for “Amelie,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and now for “Darkest Hour.” Can he finally win his first Oscar?
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