Dunkirk

Dunkirk (2017) Directed by Christopher Nolan.

My parents were married only a few months before WWII started – yes, I was a very late baby for them! Although my father wasn’t allowed to serve in the armed forces (he was busy teaching people how to build machinery in munitions factories) both he and my mother had friends who served in Europe and the Pacific. By the time I arrived, my mother especially talked a surprising amount about the war, friends who made it through, those who never came home. So when I saw Dunkirk recently, it had quite a profound effect on me and bought back a lot of childhood memories.

I should say from the outset that Christopher Nolan’s vision isn’t entirely historically accurate as I understand it. The pontoon dubbed “the mole” was actually the main point of departure for evacuees and there’s little mention of the French forces and their role in holding back the German forces. Nevertheless, I think this is a stunning, beautifully made and quintessentially British film.

Like much of Nolan’s work, Dunkirk plays with temporality and after the first time shift, it’s an excellent device to show the different points of view of the three main protagonists. These are the young soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), the shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) and the RAF pilot (Tom Hardy). These main characters are ably supported by the likes of Kenneth Branagh and Mark Ryeland, who bring depth to proceedings.

There is more than a passing nod to other British film makers too, most obviously David Lean. The sweeping views of the beach, filled with real live extras rather than computer generated images, particularly brings Lean to mind. And the aerial combat is really wonderfully shot and edited, with Tom Hardy giving a great performance – mostly with his eyes!

For me though, the glue that holds it all together is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Perhaps it’s the musician in me but I find so many contemporary soundtracks intrusive and more inclined to bludgeon the viewer towards the required emotional response. Here, Zimmer creates a soundscape that works almost seamlessly with the visual tension to heighten both viewer response and immersion in the action. Yes, it is loud and at times almost overwhelming – but so is the subject matter.

Recommended for a cinema experience.