by Tony Medley
Runtime 106 minutes.
Written and directed
by Christopher Nolan, it tells the story of the remarkable rescue of
338,682 Allied soldiers who were stranded between the ocean and the Nazi
army on a beach in Dunkirk in 1940 by an armada of 933 ships,
approximately 700 of which were “small” private vessels, the smallest of
which was the Tamzine, a 14ft open-topped fishing boat, now in the
Imperial War Museum. It does so by inventing totally fictional
characters and totally fictional events to capture what actually
It does not strain
credulity to say that this was an event that saved the world as we know
it. Because if Hitler had been smart enough to annihilate the British
Army at this time, it is pretty safe to say that the Nazis would have
easily invaded and conquered Britain before America entered the war. Had
that occurred, how could we have defeated the Nazis?
But Hitler allowed
the British Army to escape. It was not easy because Britain did not have
the ships to spare to evacuate the troops. So an armada of private boats
disembarked from Britain and spirited most of the troops to safety.
Nolan tells three
fictional stories, one of the spitfires (piloted by Tom Hardy) who were
trying to protect the troops, an episode which only lasted about an
hour. The second story is of one small boat owner (Mark Rylance, in
another terrific performance) who took his ship from England to Dunkirk,
an episode that lasted no more than one 24 hour day. The third is of the
soldiers on the beach, which lasted a week (May 24-June 4).
these stories, cutting back and forth among them, so that each lasts for
the entire film. As readers know, I’m a stickler for accuracy when
movies try to tell an historical story. But Nolan has done a terrific
job of capturing what happened by fictionalizing three plot lines to
represent what actually happened. However, one of the stories, of some
soldiers trapped in a beached boat makes almost no sense whatsoever and
is completely tangential to what actually happened on that beach.
The story is made
even better when seeing it on the huge IMAX screen with its incredible
clarity. Even better, there is very little CGI used in making the film.
Verisimilitude is added in that the scenes on the beach were filmed at
Dunkirk and at the same time of year that the actual event took place.
Why did Hitler let them get away? Here’s what
Michael Epkenhans, a German military
historian who specializes in the German Imperial Navy, and is director
of research for the
der Bundeswehr in Potsdam, says:
“On 24 May Generals von Kluge and von Rundstedt issued the order for a
halt of the German 4th Army. Hitler, as is often overlooked, only
sanctioned it the same day. The reasons for this halt were manifold.
“Both generals had fought in World War I and realized that, like at the
Marne in 1914, a sudden Allied counter-attack could change the course of
the whole war. In their eyes this risk still existed, because the
British and French still offered resistance in neighboring areas. At the
same time, they wanted to give their armies time to rest, repair and
replenish after a thrust whose speed and distance had taken everyone by
“The decision by generals von Kluge and Rundstedt did not go
uncontested. The army's chief of staff, general von Brauchitsch,
disagreed and tried to repeal it at once, though without success.
Hitler, for the time being, remained firm. His reasons have been a
matter of much controversy.
“German historian Karl Heinz Friedser, after close scrutiny of all
available documents, has convincingly argued that Hitler did not, in
fact, call off the attack as an olive branch to Churchill. In fact his
decision was the result of his intention to, once and for all, make it
clear to the military leadership that he was in fact the supreme
commander of the German armed forces, and not them.”
The story of Dunkirk
is well known in England and celebrated. In the rest of the world, it
takes a back seat to the Normandy Invasion. This film might help put it
back in the limelight.
My few criticisms are
that it would have improved the movie if some of the information I
include in my opening paragraph had been included before the end
credits, the number of troops saved, how many were killed, how many
private boats participated, etc. And it never shows the magnitude of
almost 400,000 men stranded on the Dunkirk beaches or the magnitude of
the flotilla of almost a thousand boats crossing back and forth across
the English Channel to rescue them. It’s a good movie for a movie, but
it missed the big picture.