Thursday, 27 July 2017


Dunkirk is a film that tries to depict the events leading up to the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in 1940. It is told from the perspective of the soldiers, the seamen and the airmen who were involved.

I enjoyed it very much, despite three main criticisms:

1. A great deal of the time the film's colour has the vivid look of an over enthusiastically edited Instagram photograph. The blues in particular are strangely bright. The effect is very pretty but gives the slight impression of a fairy tale rather than a fairly desperate, grimy actual event.

2. The crowd scenes - soldiers getting up after a bombing raid on the beach, soldiers moving en masse towards trains - seemed to me to be inauthentic. How the hell I would know I cannot say - all I can say is that in these moments I abruptly was reminded that I was watching a film, I had a sudden awareness that there was a film crew just out of view, recording a large number of would-be actors, all of whom had been told to get up shakily or to trudge wearily or whatever and were obeying - or trying to do so.

3. The opening frames, in which a sentence is put up on a blank screen and then the same sentence is joined by a second and then those two by a third and then all three by a fourth was, I thought, an uninspired solution to the problem of getting some information across to the audience. Worse still was the dedication written across the screen after the movie was over - it announced that Dunkirk was dedicated to the people whose lives were "impacted by" the events of Dunkirk. What the hell is wrong with "affected by"?

But the film has many qualities. It is, first and foremost, well-cast and acted. It has Kenneth Branagh in it, which is always a big plus for me. Harry Styles, a young pop star, is in there too, and this is quite clever, because, if you know who he is, the knowledge provides a sort of counterpoint between the life of the young man he is playing - and the lives of young men in general at that time - and the life of a young man today.

Apart from a troubling thread involving a young French soldier, the film's story is told entirely from the British point of view. What results is very entertaining. Whether one should be entertained by the depiction of an event that left Europe in the control of the Nazis and resulted in many deaths is debatable, but Dunkirk is less historical examination and more celebration of a moment in which ordinary people rose to a challenge. As such, it does give the slight impression that it could have been put together by a propaganda unit during the Second World War, (although technically, of course, it is immensely more sophisticated than anything from that time).  Were one so inclined, it also might be interpreted as a bit of a Brexit supporting work of art.

One element of the film that did make me wonder about its propaganda-esque tendencies is its surprising cleanliness - or at least its lack of torn limbs and spilt guts. Although bombs go off right beside soldiers, the only casualties we see are completely intact - as the woman I overheard talking to her friends about the film after the screening said, it wasn't bloody. I'm not complaining, as I hate gore, but it was an interesting decision, which led me to wonder what exactly the director's intention was in choosing this subject to make a feature film.

But if it's a question of whether going to the film will provide a good night out, then I suppose the answer to my speculations is: Who cares, (and yes, it will provide a good night out)? What the film does manage to do is to convey the astonishing bravery of so many men, especially the airmen, and to deliver some sense of how truly terrifying being bombarded is. It also reminds you what a superb moment for Britain the evacuation was, in spite of its being a defeat. I would also add, if I weren't afraid of being shouted at for racism, that it raised the question in my mind of whether such an effort would succeed today - whether there is still enough cohesion in British society now, enough of a sense of belonging to one family of people in a nation, to allow an almost spontaneous mobilisation by a huge number of people, who risked their own lives to rescue their fellow countrymen. I won't mention that though, as I hate being shouted at - and anyway similar circumstances are, I hope, very unlikely to arise.