Winston Churchill expert talks Gary Oldman, reveals what ‘Darkest Hour’ got right, and why the PM is still undervalued
The English thespian is the clear Best Actor Oscar front-runner for his performance as the iconic Prime Minister
Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour has been roundly lauded as one of the best of the year.
The ultimate proof of which is the English actor’s continued success during awards season, as he has now won the Best Actor gongs at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and Screen Actors Guild awards, and is favorite to do so at the BAFTAs and Oscars, too.
But while audiences and critics have clearly responded to Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill, what do the experts thing?
Luckily, I recently had the opportunity to talk to one such individual in the shape of Kenneth W. Rendell, the founder and director of The International Museum Of World War II in Boston, Massachusetts, in conjunction with their new exhibition of Winston Churchill artifacts that are specifically linked to "Darkest Hour."
As you’d expect Rendell only had positive things to say about Oldman’s performance as Churchill, while he also explained why it has struck such a chord. “Gary Oldman is a great actor. Gary Oldman really captures the indomitable spirit of Churchill. That fighting attitude. Churchill, from day one, had the fighting spirit. He didn’t need to get it from the King. He probably spread it to the King.”
“I think this movie comes at a time when the issue of leadership is a concern in every place of the world. Maybe not in Russia or China. France has taken a big departure for the norm with Macron, May is on the ropes in the UK, most Americans don’t have a good view of Trump.”
Rendell was able to provide some insight into how Oldman might have prepared for his work as Churchill, too, as he previously worked with the actor on some of his past roles.
“Gary Oldman used to be a client of mine, I was in the historical letter and documents business for years. Oldman would buy letters of people he was going to portray in movies. I could see him probably spending a lot of time in the Churchill War Rooms, and really getting into the spirit.”
But while Rendell had nothing but kind words for Gary Oldman’s work as Churchill, he did note, “The movie isn’t accurate in terms of events.”
Not that he held that against "Darkest Hour," as he quickly added the caveat of, “But I understand with a film that characters and issues get collapsed into each other to fit it all into an hour and a half. To create drama and a story, other issues are always brought in.”
Rendell also defended one of "Darkest Hour’s" most controversial scenes, which fictitiously depicts Churchill going rogue and walking onto the tube in war-torn London, where he connects with the city’s inhabitants.
“Churchill from the day of the German attack, and him becoming Prime Minister, had a really fighting attitude. He was really in touch with the mood and the soul of the British public.”
“He wasn’t an aristocrat, but was raised in an aristocratic family in Blenheim Palace with all of the splendor. Still, he had a really good sense between the difference of the upper class, who were all willing to make a deal with Hitler or emigrate to the United States or Canada. He knew the key to the success was the working people. Who wanted to know what to do, not why they should do it.”
“That’s why British propaganda changed remarkably when Churchill came in. The posters were all about what you can and what you need to do. Everything from how you can spot a German parachutist, what to do in air raids, everything is about action. That spirit was not something that developed in that 2-week period. That spirit was there.”
In Rendell’s eyes this is just one of many reasons why he believes that, despite his iconic status as one of the most influential political figures in history, Churchill is still undervalued.
“Churchill should be seen in even greater glory. Also, because the Germans had their War plans meticulously planned out. They invented the lightning war. And it’s nothing anyone has ever seen before. And Churchill is reacting to this hour by hour. When you read his letters you really get a sense of the immediacy, because everything is changing so quickly. And Churchill is adjusting to something that the Germans had years to prepare.”
You can learn even more about Winston Churchill and his inspiring efforts during the world’s "Darkest Hour" by visiting The International Museum Of World War II, which is located west of downtown Boston. And by watching Gary Oldman in "Darkest Hour," which is still in cinemas.