In the years before making “Darkest Hour,” the critically acclaimed Winston Churchill movie now in theaters, filmmaker Joe Wright faced a dark professional hour of his own.
The Englishman, 45, had achieved a promising ascent through the directing ranks, beginning with his “Pride & Prejudice” adaptation starring Keira Knightley in 2005, continuing through the Oscar-winning “Atonement” and a trio of films that were well-received if somewhat less successful: “The Soloist,” “Hanna” and “Anna Karenina.”
But then came “Pan,” the Peter Pan-Capt. Hook origin story that flopped in 2015 and spurred a period of reconsideration for the filmmaker.
“When the film was released, it was crushing. It resulted in a massive crisis of conscience and lots of doubt,” Wright says. “. . . But you know, the interesting thing about such kind of rock bottoms, I guess, is that you learn something. You learn far more from your mistakes than you do from your achievements.”
Wright renewed his love for the form of cinema and directing in general after the period of struggle by going back to his favorite movies and, eventually, directing an episode of “Black Mirror.”
Now with “Darkest Hour,” which depicts the harrowing initial year of Churchill’s prime ministership, Wright has returned to feature filmmaking in force.
The movie is indisputably well-directed, economical in its storytelling and flush with epic scope. But the biggest win of all for the filmmaker is his Churchill: Gary Oldman, a sure bet to win his first Oscar.
“In casting, you can either cast someone who looks like the character, or you cast someone who has the essence of the character,” Wright says.
That’s what he saw in Oldman, who doesn’t physically resemble Churchill, but undergoes a sweeping physical transformation here.
“From everything I’ve seen of Churchill and read about him, I thought that ... Churchill had this intensity of energy, both physically and mentally. Lots of actors, as they’re approaching their mid-60s are winding down in their intensity and energy, but Gary has that intensity as we’ve seen from all the amazing characters he’s played throughout his career.”