‘Darkest Hour’ Screenwriter Anthony McCarten on Humanizing an Icon like Winston Churchill

     December 1, 2017

Every once in a while, a movie features a performance that is so special, so transformative, you know it’s going to be remembered for decades to come. That’s definitely the case with Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. While Oldman has been known as a great actor for a very long time, his work in Darkest Hour is career-best and he absolutely delivers the title of “performance of the year.” I’ll be stunned if he doesn’t win the Oscar.


Image via Focus Features

Of course no matter how good Oldman is in the role, it wouldn’t be anything without a great script and fantastic dialogue and that’s all due to screenwriter Anthony McCarten. After writing director James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything, he wasn’t sure what to do next and was kicking around a few ideas, but thanks to a friend’s suggestion he decided to take on Churchill without anyone knowing he was writing the screenplay. Shortly after finishing, everything moved pretty fast and the result is one of the best films of 2017: Darkest Hour.

In addition to talking about where the idea came from, during my exclusive interview he talked about humanizing Churchill down from an icon through small moments, the challenge of writing for such a legendary wordsmith, getting Oldman involved, deleted scenes including one that focused on Dunkirk, and a lot more. Finally, towards the end of the interview, he talked about his script for director Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody, where production is with it right now, as well as how phenomenal Rami Malek is as Freddie Mercury.


Image via Focus Features

If you aren’t familiar with Darkest Hour, the film chronicles the early days of Winston Churchill’s (Gary Oldman) reign as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, which involved deciding how to approach the encroaching Nazi threat. The film also stars Kristin Scott ThomasLily JamesStephen DillaneRonald Pickup, and Ben Mendelsohn. For more on the film you can read Adam Chitwood’s review.

Check out what Anthony McCarten had to say in the player above and below is exactly what we talked about and the official synopsis.

Anthony McCarten:

  • Finishing The Theory of Everything, and when he first had the idea for Darkest Hour.
  • The challenge of writing for Winston Churchill, since he was such a legendary wordsmith.
  • Humanizing Churchill down from an icon through small moments.
  • The process of finishing the script and getting the film made.
  • Getting Gary Oldman to play Winston Churchill.
  • Were there many changes in the script when filming?
  • darkest-hour-gary-oldman-lily-james

    Image via Focus Features

    Deleted scenes, including one focusing on Dunkirk.

  • His script for Bohemian Rhapsody, and where production is with it right now, as well as how phenomenal Rami Malek is in it.

Here’s the official synopsis for Darkest Hour:

A thrilling and inspiring true story begins on the eve of World War II as, within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman) must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.

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