2017 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: If you go back to the earliest set of Oscar predictions, Gary Oldman has been declared the frontrunner for the Lead Actor Oscar.  We’re glad to report, the wily veteran actor has officially kicked off Oscar season with his metamorphic performance in Joe Wright’sDarkest Hour” – which made its World Premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on Friday night to rapturous applause.

What many are sure to call the perfect companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour” shows the siege at Dunkirk from the opposite end – the strategical approach and the internal struggle within the British government. The film creates a spectacular snapshot of the first few critical weeks following Winston Churchill’s (Oldman) wartime appointment to British Prime Minister, replacing an incapable Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and battling with the ambitious Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) over the decision to attempt a truce with Hitler or to stand ground in the face of tyranny and oppression.

Unwanted and untrusted by his own government, Churchill must overcome the strong opinions his cabinet members have of him – that he is a great orator, but an alcoholic flip-flopper who stands only for himself – while fulfilling his commitment to form a new administration and steer England in the best course of action. It doesn’t help matters that King George VI, played eloquently by the great Ben Mendelsohn (“Animal Kingdom”), detests the very sight of the “British Bulldog.”

Director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (“The Theory of Everything”) have created something special here, and it is tangible from the magnificent opening scene in Parliament that we are in the hands of a connoisseur. “Darkest Hour” is both intense and humorous; sentimental and unbiased. We are seeing Wright and Oldman at the height of their careers, and both seem also certain to harvest a multitude of citations this awards season.

As strong as the writing, direction, cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel), production design (Sarah Greenwood), film editing (Valerio Bonelli), and score (Dario Marianelli) are (all are probable spots the film will be recognized), make no mistake about it, this is Oldman’s show. Wright mentioned as much prior to introducing the film. The actor disappears into the role and is nearly unrecognizable at times. He plays the part with unbridled emotion: as vociferous as he is insufferable. Oldman has been wowing audiences since his performance as Sid Vicious in “Sid and Nancy” over 30 years ago. While he has long been a terrific actor, the sensationally talented thespian has only been nominated for the Academy Award once (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” in 2011). He’s about to double-up on his current tally.

Darkest Hour” is a masterwork, and Oldman gives an undeniably tour-de-force performance. He is simply astonishing. Oscar beckons.

“Darkest Hour” is distributed by Focus Features and Working Title and opens in theaters on November 22.

GRADE: (★★★★)