Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour ★★

If we’ve learned nothing about the Academy Awards, it’s that they love performances in which people do impressive imitations of historical figures in blandly serviceable dramas with the patina of respectability—which I guess means it’s Gary Oldman’s turn. Here he plays Winston Churchill in a story that begins in May 1940, with the ouster of Neville Chamberlain as British Prime Minister and Churchill’s ascendance as the alternative tolerable to both parties, despite stains on his previous record. Director Joe Wright allows cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel to go nuts with showy lighting that does little besides draw attention to itself, almost as much as obligatory scenes of MPs waving papers and yelling at one another in Parliament. The supporting performances—Lily James as a new secretary; Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI—try to offer something off of which Oldman can play, but the entire movie is built around Churchill as muttering, stubbornly confident wartime leader, with showy moments like his interaction with Ordinary Folks on the London Underground that feel designed as an awards-show clip. And in the year of Dunkirk, it’s considerably less interesting watching everyone talk about Dunkirk.