MAKING something of a neat pairing with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, from last summer, Darkest Hour hits cinemas this week, courtesy of Atonement director Joe Wright.

The film sees Gary Oldman take on the iconic role of Winston Churchill in his first month as Prime Minister, May 1940, after the forced resignation of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and in the lead up to the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Amid a cast of men-in-suits, Cinderella star Lily James plays Churchill’s personal secretary Elizabeth Layton, with Kristen Scott-Thomas as his smart and steadfast wife Clementine.

Boasting terrific orchestration from Dario Marianelli, Darkest Hour is a pleasingly stylish take on grim early-wartime Britain, packed with humour as much as turmoil.

Wright’s camera is thrilling in its mobility, whilst the director continues his penchant for beautiful shot artistry – enhanced here by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel.

Dunkirk is familiar territory for Wright, of course, with Atonement having featured a five-minute single take scene on the pre-evacuation beaches.

The film, however, belongs to Oldman. For a male actor, embracing the role of Churchill has become as requisite to the later life CV as King Lear, but who could have anticipated Oldman as so indomitable a successor to Gambon, Spall and Finney?

Under layers of seamless prosthetics, the actor is rendered barely recognisable but it is through his portrayal of the former Prime Minister’s mannerisms, kind and comical yet equally brusque and rude, that the performance comes alive.

This is no fusty turn, Oldman’s Churchill is lively, energetic and surprisingly light of foot. Certainly, never has an actor so well captured the aura of the icon this effectively.

With his Churchill at the helm, Darkest Hour is rendered unfailingly compulsive as a viewing experience.

With Oldman a hot contender for best actor at next month’s Oscars after winning the same award at the Golden Globes this week, best actress at the Oscars may well land at the feet of the lead in another of this week’s releases.

Directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri sees Frances McDormand play Mildred Hayes, a divorced mother grieving her daughter's murder who buys three billboards to express her anger at the lack of progress in Sheriff Willoughby’s (Woody Harrelson) investigation.

Listed among the American Film Institute’s Top Ten Films of last year, Three Billboards arrives in the UK on a wave of critical acclaim.

The film juggles black comedy and crime drama and is notable for being the first feature film by McDonagh not to star Colin Farrell.

Toby Symonds