Dunkirk (M)

In a word: Intense


PICTURE: Warner Bros Picture. 

"Dunkirk is a heart-in-your-mouth journey through a week of war that never lets up, but at two hours long, Nolan doesn’t overplay his hand and ends the movie in a timely fashion. A masterpiece of intensity."

It was an enormous undertaking – the evacuation of some 340,000 Allied soldiers back to Britain from France as the Germans drove all before them during the early years of World War II – with a result which could rightly be described as miraculous.

The role of the 700 “little ships” in the evacuation of Dunkirk – small private boats that sailed from Ramsgate to help in the evacuation - has long held a special place in the annals of World War II and comes to life in this powerful movie depicting the events of late May and early June, 1940.

Writer and director Christopher Nolan – here turning his hand to a true story after finding success in genres like sci-fi (Inception and Interstellar) and superhero movies (The Dark Knight) - tells the story through three separate yet ultimately interlinked strands of narrative which depict the event from the beaches of Dunkirk, in the sea and from the air.

It’s an ensemble film, so the viewer never gets much insight into the lives of those who were caught up in the events beyond the action of the moment yet despite this, while the focus remains on the grand sweep of narrative, there is still a strong sense of the personal stories of those caught up in the events at its heart.

To that end, there are here no shots of generals back in England or British PM Winston Churchill in one of his most desperate moments (nor for that matter do we ever really see the enemy) – this film simply follows, through a split timeline, the events that unfolded from the perspective of those on the ground, the sea or in the air.

Mark Rylance is a stand-out as Mr Dawson, the owner of a pleasure-craft which he sails out to save what troops he can with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan) to help him, as is Cillian Murphy playing a shell-shocked soldier found stranded on a wreck at sea while Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy bring due gravitas as the key officers overseeing the evacuation from the beach (Branagh plays Navy Commander Bolton and D’Arcy Army Colonel Winnant). 

But it’s the ordinary band of young soldiers and airmen whose struggle to survive is most perhaps poignant – on land, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who is shown at the start as the only member of his unit to reach the beach, to the wordless Gibson (Aneurin Barnard), and the somewhat ruthless Alex (Harry Styles), while in the air we accompany two Spitfire pilots, Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), flying to do what they can to help those below.

Cinematically impressive with both wide, sweeping scenes (making big screen viewing a must) and intimate footage depicting up close the struggles of individual soldiers, composer Hans Zimmer has also provided the film with throbbing soundtrack which provides much of the ongoing atmospheric tension.

This is cinema at its best - and just as Saving Private Ryan did with its scenes of the landings on D-Day – it’s one that gives a unique insight into a moment in history when the world as we know it stood on a precipice.

Dunkirk is a heart-in-your-mouth journey through a week of war that never lets up, but Nolan doesn’t overplay by drawing it out beyond what's needed. A masterpiece of intensity.

Lest We Forget.