Dunkirk has been a movie that has divided opinion. Critics have lauded it, in the main, but some veterans and others have criticised it for various reasons. Some saying it portrays veterans as cowards and others that the film is very anti-French. That is not the movie I saw yesterday, I tend to agree with the Critics, it is a good film with moments that are outstanding, I would recommend it but with one proviso: it really isn’t an easy watch, it not a film you “enjoy” but it is a film that stays with you and makes you think.
Most of us are aware of the basic storyline, the Allied forces, basically the British and the French have been pushed to the coast near Dunkirk by the advancing Nazi army. There are over 400,00 troops stuck on a beach desperate to escape. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, is also keen to get as many troops home as possible to enable them to help in what is expected to be the “Battle for Britain” once France has fallen. In the film this is seen through he eyes of several protagonists: a British Soldier, The Admiral trying to organise the rescue of the troops, an RAF pilot and a civilian crew of one of the “little boats”. We see the action from these different perspectives which gives an edge to the drama and the storyline that makes it almost documentary-like in its telling.
The controversy about it being anti-French is that the British Soldier meets a Frenchman so desperate to escape that he steals a dead British soldier’s uniform. Yes, he’s seen in a bad light, but so is the British Soldier who meets him and along with him strives in any way possible to get off the beach and home. Actually the French army is seen as really brave, being the forces that are manning the barricades protecting the British from the oncoming German army. As for portraying people as cowards, again not a bit of it, there is genuine sympathy for the human condition, the will to survive and that it is when people pull together that things can really be achieved.
The film is shocking in the way it portrays the horrors of war. It has moments of pure drama, that made my heart race and feel the desperation of characters caught on sinking ships, striving to escape from aircraft cockpits and being pulled from an oil-slicked sea that is about to go up in flames. All very carefully done and brilliantly directed. The end of the film is also very clever: the familiar speech of Churchill about “we will fight them from the beeches” is read by a soldier on a train as they head “home”, it gives that famous speech more pathos, more gravity and seem less jingoistic. It is a clever end to a very good film. Should you see it? Yes, if you are prepared for the fact it is not an easy watch, and it will stay with you, haunt you and make you think. Which is a good thing.