Two of the most exciting – and award-worthy – films in 2017 will take audiences back to World War II in a way that has not been seen before: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, the latter featuring Gary Oldman’s extraordinary performance as Winston Churchill.

Darkest Hour focuses on a pivotal five weeks at the start of World War II and co-stars Lily James and Ben Mendelsohn. It’s vintage Oldman, with the actor delivering possibly the best performance of his career and joining a long line of distinguished thesps who have portrayed the British PM, including Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall and Brian Cox.

“Winston Churchill was a hard man to do. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, not only the physical, but here is a man who has arguably been hailed as the greatest Briton who ever lived. He’s an iconic figure and I think he has been quoted more times than anyone and many famous actors have portrayed him. So it was a little daunting,” Oldman told STACK at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

“But once I started to find out who the man was, I’ve never enjoyed anything more in my life. My pick-ups were at 2.30 – 2.45am followed by about three and a half hours in make-up across 48 consecutive dates. So I spent over 200 hours in the make-up chair, and, by the end, I carried around about half my body weight [in additional weight]. And yet, I couldn’t wait to get to work and be him.”

Describing Darkest Hour’s specific time period, Oldman reveals “It takes place over five weeks in 1940 – from the very first day that he became prime minister when Hitler invaded. I guess it was harmonious; something was aligning because the country needed a man who could face up to him. I don’t know what that is: God, fate, whatever you want to call it, that put that man in that place at that time.

“Hopefully for the audience, not only is it a story of the resilience of British people, but we see how very, very close we came to surrendering or capitulating to Nazi tyranny. And had it not been for Winston, the world might be very different today. That in itself, and to come in and to play those themes, is a wonderful gift for an actor.”

From Winston Churchill and Darkest Hour, we move on to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. One of the biggest battles of WW II, the Battle of Dunkirk remains one of the greatest testaments to human courage on a mass scale.

In June 1940, Allied troops were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk in France, as Germany advanced further into French territory. An ingenious and daring plan was launched whereby, under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every vessel available, from naval ships to private yachts and even rowing boats.

In introducing a clip of the film onstage at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Nolan called the epic film “one of the greatest stories of human history. At its heart, it’s a survival story. The enemy is closing in on the British on this beach with no escape. I wanted to put the audience in the story.”

Told through the eyes of three soldiers, the film stars Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and One Directioner Harry Styles.

“Dunkirk and the legend of it is something that British people grow up with – it’s in our DNA. The idea of taking this paradoxical situation and putting it on the big screen – it’s something that’s been close to my heart for some time, it’s something I didn’t think I was ready to do,” said Nolan, unveiling about six minutes of footage showing the intensity of the evacuation as British troops prepared to face the enemy on water and in the sky – Hardy at his coolest in the cockpit.

Nolan also told exhibitors he wanted to immerse the audience as part of the story on the beach – flying over the beach and running with the troops. The film is not yet completed, but he noted that “it’s the first time we really have been able to use the IMAX cameras to full effect.” Including, he said, using them to film inside airplane cockpits.

Dunkirk is in cinemas July 20, with Darkest Hour due late 2017.