We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…
Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940
Between May 26 and June 4, 1940, nearly 340,000 British and Allied soldiers were evacuated from Dunkirk, after having been surrounded by German troops and forced to the beaches, where they were sitting ducks. Instead of taking advantage of the situation and slaughtering the British and Allied forces, there was a Halt Order given to the German troops for three days. The true reason behind the Halt Order is still being debated but it gave the Royal Navy some breathing room to plan and mobilize an evacuation. There were 400,000 British, Canadian, French and Belgium men who were stranded in Dunkirk, praying for a miracle.
That “miracle” came in the form of battleships, fighter planes and hundreds of private fishing boats, pleasure crafts, ferries and others which were able to get closer to shore in the shallow waters. They acted as shuttles to and from the larger ships, lifting troops who were queuing in the water, many waiting shoulder-deep in water for hours.
Some friends of mine have mentioned that, at times, they found the movie very loud. I agree that, at times, it was. But, I found those times to be when the German fighter planes were flying low over the soldiers and dropping bombs on them. Now, I have not had any conversations with the director, Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento, The Dark Knight) but I was thinking, at the time, that he had done this so we could get some kind of sense of what it had been like for those soldiers, feeling terrified and helpless, with nowhere to go for shelter.
The striking thing for me in this film is that it depicted the horrors of war, the waste of all of those young men who were there at the whims of the generals and politicians. Yet, unlike so many other war movies, most particularly Saving Private Ryan, there was no blood and gore and disemboweled soldiers littering the beaches. There were many soldiers killed but pretty much no blood, no gore and the message got across just as strongly. There was no hiding behind my hands. I was, instead clutching the arms of the theatre chair, sliding down into my seat and feeling scared to death for these men.
There was very little CGI (computer-generated images) in this film. Nolan and his team actually filmed on location in Dunkirk with real war ships and fighter planes.
There were no “stars” per se, of Dunkirk. Oh, there were wonderful, well-known actors, such as Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance (with whom I have fallen in love, once again) and, the much-talked-about Harry Styles, in his film debut. My verdict: he did a very good job; an excellent beginning of a film career, I’d say.
There was very little dialogue and many times when there was, the heavy British accent and the battle sounds made it difficult to know exactly what was said. It was not important. Seeing the fear and hopelessness on their faces was all one needed to know exactly what was going on.
At times the film seemed almost ethereal, thanks to music by Hans Zimmer, broken suddenly by machine-gun fire and the engines of another German plane.
I found this film superb. It is an historic event that I had heard something about but had never really understood the magnitude of it. Of the 400,000 men stranded at Dunkirk, nearly 340,000 were rescued.
This could definitely be deemed a “miracle”.
Dunkirk exhausted me but in a good way. I will go on record right now and say that Dunkirk and Christopher Nolan will get nominated for many awards this year and deservedly so.
4.5 stars out of 5 94% on Rotten Tomatoes
A couple of recommendations for films on DVD
BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) – It’s 1962 and Tom Hanks plays an American lawyer, James Donovan, who has been recruited by the US government to negotiate a prisoner exchange for American fighter pilot Gary Powers, who has been accused of being a spy. Donovan’s client, Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), a convicted Russian spy is the other half of the exchange. This is a pretty good spy movie but the thing that upped the ante for me was Mark Rylance. He is sublime as Abel and I could not take my eyes off him whenever he was on the screen. He went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and rightly so.
3.5 stars out of 5 91% on Rotten Tomatoes
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1993) – This is Shakespeare at his comical best. Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, this is a star-studded adaptation of this hilarious tale of love and betrayal. Also stars Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Kate Beckinsale and Michael Keaton, among many others. A gorgeous-looking movie, filmed in Tuscany, this is a must-see for Shakespeare fans and anyone who enjoys a comedy of errors.
4 stars out of 5 91% on Rotten Tomatoes