In 2017, Gary Oldman impressed audiences with his performance as United Kingdom prime minister Winston Churchill in the Joe Wright-directed Darkest Hour. Oldman brought home numerous accolades from that movie, including the Academy Award for Best Actor, but almost three full years later, he’s now the subject of a lawsuit concerning Darkest Hour.
As reported by Variety, Ben Kaplan, a teacher and writer for several History Channel series, filed a suit in Los Angeles Superior Court last Friday. Kaplan wrote his own script about Winston Churchill that Gary Oldman allegedly signed on for, but later dropped off of in March 2015. That by itself isn’t lawsuit-worthy, but Kaplan alleges that Darkest Hour’s script borrows certain scenes and elements from his own script.
For instance, there’s a scene in Darkest Hour where Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill tries to coax a cat out from under a bed, and Ben Kaplan claims this same scene in the script he wrote. The lawsuit also notes that Kaplan’s script (which he allegedly began writing in 1999 and registered with the Writers Guild of America in 2002) includes the ahistorical feature of Churchill coming up with the idea of the British civilian armada helping evacuate Dunkirk during World War II, as well as that both scripts share a similar story arc that ends with Churchill delivering his “We shall fight on the beaches” speech.
Due to Gary Oldman’s prior involvement with Ben Kaplan’s Winston Churchill project, as well as the actor and his team supposedly having access to three versions of Caplan’s script, the lawsuit alleges that there’s been “false designation of origin” under federal trademark law, as well as “breach of implied contract, unfair business practices and interference with contract.” Along with Oldman, the lawsuit names Oldman’s agent and manager, along with NBCUniversal, Working Title and Focus Features, as defendants. Oddly enough, Darkest Hour writer Anthony McCarten is not named.
Lawsuits around Hollywood are nothing new, but we’ll have to wait and see how this Darkest Hour legal drama unfolds. Melissa McCarthy was recently hit with a similar lawsuit over her 2018 movie Life of the Party, which didn’t make a splash at the box office, but now has a $10 million target on it. The Shape of Water and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl were also the subject of lawsuits that claimed certain concepts or ideas were taken without credit.
Oftentimes these kinds of lawsuits don’t work out for those filing since it’s difficult to prove that one idea inspired the other. However, if Ben Kaplan has indeed been working on his Winston Churchill project for over two decades and has documentation that Gary Oldman was once involved with it, that may give him an edge should this progress further through the legal system.
Along with Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour’s cast included Kristen Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup and Samuel West, among others. In addition to Oldman’s aforementioned Oscar, the movie also won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling and was nominated in four other categories.