It’s in the movies where we seem to learn everything. Who invented the telephone? Who shot Lincoln, and who would be England’s greatest historic name? No, not Paul McCartney. It’s Winston Churchill. You’re so smart.

So far, to my count, at least eight actors have played Winston on screen, including of all people, the once handsome Rod Taylor. He was terrible. The closest portrayal up to now, would be John Lithgow in television’s “The Crown.” Now is when Gary Oldman assumed the makeup.

Let’s not waste time. Now on screen at Waterville’s Railroad Square Cinema, the very latest, the very best, and at least for this year, the greatest portrayal of this giant of an historical figure is being etched by the estimable Oldman.

Director Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement”) brings us “Darkest Hour,” and believe me, it was.

If you saw “Dunkirk,” you know that 300,000 British troops, having fled the battles in France at the beginning of WWII, were trapped on the beaches of a tiny town in France called Dunkirk.

“Darkest Hour” doesn’t dwell on that disaster or it’s miraculous outcome, but stays at home in foggy London with Winston, his stodgy enemies in Parliament and the opposition he faced with his cowardly war cabinet, all of whom were getting ready to get in bed with Hitler, who was just across the English channel preparing to destroy England, imprison all of them, hang Churchill, and give the royal family the Romanov treatment. This is not my kidding face.

Defeat and surrender were imminent. England’s warriors were trapped and awaiting annihilation. It was truly the worst of times with no “best” in sight.

Only minutes in “Darkest” are spent with battles, bombs and blood. Wright’s film takes us into the basements of power, long dark, almost candle lighted hallways, and chambers where uniforms and pinstriped suits huddled together listening to the ticking of the clock.

Enter Winston Churchill, who after his long past disaster at Gallipoli, was steaming about, barking orders and dictating warnings, while gobbling bacon and sausage breakfasts washed down with champagne and brandy. Was this great savior of democracy an alcoholic? Probably. He made some of his best speeches while obviously drunk. Who cares? History makes it clear that but for this bloviating, boisterous, cantankerous visionary, we might all be texting and snap chatting in German today.

Wright instantly dives into the smallest moments of Churchill’s days and nights, while his wife, (splendidly played by Kristin Scott Thomas with little to do) is forever waiting in the next room with a bottle of aspirin, brandy, and stomach and heart pills.

And then there is “Downton Abbey’s” lovely Lily James, his newly appointed secretary, typist and whispering cheerleader, who is always there with a pencil, whiteout and tears, while Winston berates her — “SINGLE SPACE, SINGLE SPACE.” James suffers, but soars.

Each member of the cast, especially Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI, Stephen Dillane as the plotting Viscount Halifax, and Ronald Pickup (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) as Neville Chamberlain enhance every scene with Oldman.

There are too many to mention, but each one, from the shivering Londoners in the Tube to the war cabinet are so wonderful, their names should be emblazoned on a wall like the CIA’s wall of heroes. But of course, that’s largely the handicraft of director Wright, who crocheted this magnificent tapestry.

Make no mistake, and as a fan, I’m thrilled to tell you that this is Gary’s Oldman’s tour de force. This is his “Hamlet,” his “Lear.” This is the actor who played Dracula, rocker Sid Vicious, Beethoven and the whispering, stoic spy in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” And despite stunning, screen shattering work in all of those, has been overlooked consistently at Oscar night. That will all be washed away this year. I guarantee you.

Words are golden, and writer Anthony McCarten’s script is 14 karat golden, sparkling, dagger-sharp and perfect.

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s camera swoops, darts and crawls through each scene, embraces each face, cerebrates every angle. Kudos to him. Katie Spencer’s sets are magically drawn, and Jacqueline Durran’s costumes seem impossibly perfect down to each British button.

In the end, it is Oldman’s Churchill that fills the screen with thunderous vowels and electrifying consonants. Unroll the red carpet.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

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