Code-named Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk evacuation (also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk) was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, in the north of France, between 26 May and 4 June 1940. As a keen enthusiast of history with a Great Uncle who numbered one of the 330,000 safely evacuated from Dunkirk during WWII, I was curious to see film director, Christopher Nolan’s take on the subject. Nolan is famous for films such as The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar but Dunkirk is his first historical movie and with an all star cast including, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberpatch, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, not to mention boy band, One Direction’s very own Harry Styles, I was expecting a lot. I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. And, on the whole, the film appears to have been well received and has clocked up some rave reviews.
However, as with music, art, and books, films are subjective. You can’t please everyone so naturally there have been a few negative reviews and some general criticisms, mostly aimed at some of the film’s general historical inaccuracies. For example, there are Messerschmitt Bf 109 planes featured in dogfights with British Spitfire planes. In the film, the German planes have yellow noses but in reality, the planes were not painted yellow until about a month after Dunkirk. The film also fails to include some of the Indian troops present at the time and there is also, which I must admit I am a bit miffed about, a general exclusion of women, save for the odd stereotypical role where they are providing tea for the homecoming menfolk. In real life, female Auxiliary Territorial Service telephonists (who received two-thirds of a male soldier’s pay) were some of the last military personnel to leave the beach. There also appears to be a distinct lack of the many so-called “little ships”. These were a wide variety of small vessels from all over the south of England including car ferries, pleasure craft, Thames vessels, and speedboats, pressed into service to aid in the Dunkirk evacuation. Nonetheless, I can forgive Nolan and here’s why.
Dunkirk is not a conventional war film; there is very little character development, limited dialogue and no love story. If you’re expecting context and historical accuracy, you will be disappointed. However, if you want a brief glimpse of how it must have ‘felt’ to be present on the beaches of Dunkirk in the north of France between 26 May – 4 June 1940, then this film is a must see. The nemesis of Dunkirk was time and through Nolan’s breath taking cinematography and the brilliant accompanying musical score by composer, Hans Zimmerman, cinemagoers experience the stomach churning anticipation of attack, the waiting, the cold, the fear, the bravery, the hunger, and the loss. Nolan, if you like, captures the essence of the moment of Dunkirk.