In the long history of Hollywood War movies we’ve seen the United States stride to victory time and again. A rare occurrence to be sure is the total exclusion of America in a film depicting World War Two. Though not the first time there has been a European depiction of the war effort, Dunkirk certainly does it the best. Director Chris Nolan makes use of Hollywood’s vast resources to tell a captivating story. American students are taught about Pearl Harbor, Normandy Beach, and Gen. Patton however the events of Dunkirk are a mystery to them.
Dunkirk has come to be described as the British retreat off the European mainland, however it was so much more. This retreat may have done more to advance the British cause then any victory save for D-Day. 400,000 men we’re stranded on the beach across the channel from England waiting rescue. The British royal navy had resolved to save 45,000 of those troops. To send multiple ships covered by the Royal Air Force was a risk the government felt they should not take. This film demonstrates the burden of command and the heroism in survival.
Kenneth Branagh plays a British officer faced with several difficult decisions. What does he do with the wounded on the beach and how does he maintain morale? Those waiting on the beach had to steal themselves against fear and outlast enemy fire from land and sky. At home in England the word went out to civilian captains. The message was simple, “if willing sail to Dunkirk and pick up as many soldiers as you can”.
The result was nearly 1000 ships ranging from 15 to 40 feet in length sailing back-and-forth ferrying almost all the soldiers on the beach of Dunkirk. It demonstrated the bravery of the citizens of England. Their patriotism and their understanding of what was at stake made everyone a veteran that day. The British government had anticipated they would save 40,000 but their countrymen would not let the remaining 360,000 die on that beach.
It is the number one movie in the world at present and deservedly so. Chris Nolan stands to break that old “One for you, then one for me” program the studios cling to. This big budget personal project is going to recuperate its costs and make a buck or two.
The message is perfect, the tone is just right, and the pace is excellent. You’ll be on the edge of your seat even with the knowledge of how it turns out. Spoiler Alert… Churchill’s words in the aftermath send you home proud of the job that was done.
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