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Dunkirk The Movie

Updated on August 6, 2017
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Dunkirk Film PosterThe remains of the East Mole of Dunkirk harbor, 2009.Spitfire used in the movie, DUNKIRKThe boat used as the setting for the English Channel venue, with its "crew".The MLV Castor made to look like the destroyer MKS Basilisk that was sunk at Dunkirk in an air attack.
Dunkirk Film Poster
Dunkirk Film Poster | Source
The remains of the East Mole of Dunkirk harbor, 2009.
The remains of the East Mole of Dunkirk harbor, 2009. | Source
Spitfire used in the movie, DUNKIRK
Spitfire used in the movie, DUNKIRK | Source
The boat used as the setting for the English Channel venue, with its "crew".
The boat used as the setting for the English Channel venue, with its "crew". | Source
The MLV Castor made to look like the destroyer MKS Basilisk that was sunk at Dunkirk in an air attack.
The MLV Castor made to look like the destroyer MKS Basilisk that was sunk at Dunkirk in an air attack. | Source

About The Movie

I watched the movie Dunkirk and believe it to be an excellent movie. Dunkirk should be considered on any list of great war movies. The movie is based on the evacuation of allied soldiers at Dunkirk from May 26 to June 4, 1940.

Dunkirk has plenty of action. The MPAA gave Dunkirk a PG-13 rating “for intense war experience and some language.” Dunkirk gives the viewer a feeling for what it was like being there rather than a history lesson. Dunkirk relies on visuals rather the dialogue to give the audience an empathy with the characters.

The movie has 3 main venues, the Dunkirk beach “The Mole”, the English Channel, and the sky. The film covers 1 week on the Dunkirk Beach, one day on the English Channel, and one hour in the sky. This is a bit confusing since some events are shown twice from the perception of 2 different venues. The 3 timelines also run parallel. A day and night would go by on “the mole” while an hour or 2 go by in the English Channel, and a few minutes go by in the air.

The main character on the Dunkirk beach is a British soldier appropriately named “Tommy”[i] (Fionn Whitehead). The main characters in the English Channel is Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan). The Royal Navy requisitioned Mr. Dawson’s boat. Mr. Dawson decided to take his boat to Dunkirk rather than simply let Royal Navy sailors take his boat. The main characters in the air, besides the aircraft, were 2 RAF pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden).

Tommy and the other soldiers were doing their best to deal with their situation. Some dealt with the situation better than others. The 3 people on Mr. Dawson’s boat and the Spitfire pilots were doing their best to help the trapped soldiers at Dunkirk.

[i] “Tommy” was a nickname for British soldiers.

What it doesn’t have

What separates Dunkirk from most other war movies is what it doesn’t have. There are no women in major roles in Dunkirk. The movie does depict women involved in the evacuation. There are no American characters in the movie. Dunkirk happened before America entered the war but that hasn’t stopped some film makers from sticking an American in such films before.

The movie only covers Dunkirk from the British side. French troops are shown and a Frenchman and a Dutchman have speaking roles but the perspective is from the British side. While German planes are shown Germans are an unseen enemy. A couple of Germans are seen at the end of the movie and they are partially obscured. Covering one side of a battle is a disadvantage of most war movies but works to Dunkirk’s advantage. Tommy and the other troops are shot at by an unseen enemy. The film doesn’t spend time vilifying the enemy or showing their ineptitude. When the Germans bombed a hospital ship Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) didn’t say something like “those nasty Nazis” but instead shouted out orders to get the ship away from the dock before it sank lest the sunken hulk would prevent other ships from coming in. Luftwaffe bombing sank the hospital ship PARIS, killing 2 of its crew, and damaged the Hospital ship WORTHING.[i] Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy) rather than proclaim the German tanks stopping a blunder stated, “Why waste precious tanks when they can pick us off from the air like a fish in a barrel?”[ii] During the dogfights Luftwaffe planes didn’t crash into each other.

The movie didn’t have a “one-man-army” character. No character gave a heroic speech. Characters acted bravely but their actions and results were credible. Mr. Dawson explained his actions rather than make an emotional speech. Near the end of the movie Mr. Dawson mentioned his backstory which may have played a part in his decision to take his boat to Dunkirk. The movie only gave a back story for Mr. Dawson and George.


[i] The scene in the movie of the hospital ship sinking was ambiguous. The ship was adjacent to a dock load of uninjured soldiers, a legitimate target. This could also give the impression the ship was being used as a troop carrier.

[ii] Many historians view the Germans stopping their tanks as a blunder.

Some Stats about the Dunkirk Evacuation

The Dunkirk evacuation, named OPERATION DYNAMO, lasted from May 27-June 4, 1940. The operation brought 338,226 allied troops to England.[i] These included 198,229 British and 139,997 French and Belgian troops. There were 850 allied warships involved in the evacuation. In the final phase of the evacuation Great Britain requisitioned 700 private ships.[ii]

The allies lost 9 destroyers (3 French and 6 British), and 19 others suffered damage. The allies lost 9 other major vessels. The Germans sank over 200 smaller ships and boats and they damaged about 200 others.[iii]

The RAF flew 4,822 sorties in OPERATION DYNAMO and lost 100 aircraft. The allies claimed to have shot down 240 Luftwaffe aircraft.[iv] Weather prevented the Luftwaffe from carrying out missions most of the time. German aircraft were only able to seriously interfere with the evacuation on May 27th, the afternoon of May 29th and June 1st. The allied naval losses were so great on June 1st Admiral Sir Bertran Ramsay ordered evacuations to only be carried out at night.[v]

The Germans captured 35,000-40,000 allied troops, mostly French.


[i] JG26 Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell © 1991.

[ii] World War 2 Heritage, (http://www.worldwar2heritage.com/en/timeline-details/10/Operation-Dynamo), last accessed August 6, 2017

[iii] World War 2 Facts: Dunkirk Evacuation, (http://www.worldwar2facts.org/dunkirk-evacuation.html), last accessed August 6, 2017.

[iv] World War 2 Facts: Dunkirk Evacuation, (http://www.worldwar2facts.org/dunkirk-evacuation.html), last accessed August 6, 2017.

[v] The Luftwaffe War Diaries, by Cajus Bekker, © 1966 by Macdonald & Company, Ltd.

[vi] World War II Almanac 1931-1945, by Robert Goralski © 1981, P. 116. & World War 2 Heritage, (http://www.worldwar2heritage.com/en/timeline-details/10/Operation-Dynamo), last accessed August 6, 2017

Left Behind at Dunkirk

 
 
 
Vehicles
75,000
 
Machine Guns
11,000
 
Antitank Rifles
6,400
 
Artillery Pieces
1,200
 
Antiaircraft and Antitank Guns
1,250
 
Tons of Fuel
147,000
 
Tons of Supplies
377,000
 
Tons of Munitions
68,000
 
Sources: World War II Almanac 1931-1945, by Robert Goralski © 1981, P. 116. & World War 2 Heritage, (http://www.worldwar2heritage.com/en/timeline-details/10/Operation-Dynamo), last accessed August 6, 2017

Comments

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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 months ago

      Hopefully we'll both get the opportunity to see Churchill.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      The King's Speech is one of our favourite movies. I haven't yet seen Churchill.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 months ago

      Yes, it is great you saw the movie with people who had a close association with Dunkirk. They really did a good job of putting this movie together. I haven't seen Churchill yet. I heard it was also a good movie. Also impressive was The King's Speech. I think The King's Speech set many Americans of a certain age right about the abdication.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Just the other night, three generatons of family discussed this movie. Each one has its own take. Some family live in the UK and so have close association to this. We also compared it to the Dunkirk scene in Mrs. Miniver's.We also have a German daughter-in-law who was with us then. We were all so looking forward to this movie when we first heard it. Sometimes, strong expectations don't help at all.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      Thank you for reading and the feedback. I hope you enjoy the movie. What is good about historical dramas is they introduce a generation of people to significant past events.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      13 months ago from Germany

      Thanks for the review. I have heard about the movie but have not seen it yet. Ages ago, I have passed Dunkirk when hubby and I had a vacation in England. At that time I had no idea about the history of Dunkirk. Now I am interested to see the movie.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      Exactly, and the alternate outcome is something people can only speculate on. That does make for good alternate history though.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      13 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hindsight is often 20/20 but not always. It depends upon who is looking and evaluating the past.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      The go to war decision is complicated. On March 9, 1936 Poland proposed to France that they jointly attack Germany. Had France agreed Germany would have been conquered and it could have turned into a situation similar to what we have in Iraq. The world would and condemned it and many in France and Poland would have considered it a big mistake. Hindsight isn't always 20/20.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      13 months ago from Houston, Texas

      In response to Alan's last comment to me...I do understand that sometimes there is no other choice than to jump in there and fight evil by engaging in war. Sad, but true. If we had not countered what was happening in Nazi Germany at the time who knows how many other people would have been killed.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      14 months ago

      Yes, I think one take away from Dunkirk and Operation Market Garden, Alan Lancaster wrote a great article about Operation Market Garden, is never think you have won until you've won. It's a Yogi Berra type expression. To use the expression from Yogi Berra, "It's not over until it's over."

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      14 months ago

      Yes, war is messy, especially if you are losing. The movie Dunkirk gives the audience a good feel for what feels like to be on the losing side of a battle.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      14 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      I think that was one of the incidents I cited, Robert. There were a lot of Germans who thought then and there that they'd won the war. They certainly celebrated in the manner of victors. Five years later they weren't as cocky. No more sassy marching songs, no more torchlight parades... However, thanks to General Marshal's scheme to help them back on their feet by the Sixties they were strutting again, thinking it was their efforts that pulled them out of the pit.

      Peggy, war is a messy business, but we couldn't allow the Nazis to be 'cock of the walk'. They'd inflicted enough grief on their neighbours and former allies (Russia and Hungary, much moreso on Russia) by May 8th, 1945.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      14 months ago from Houston, Texas

      This is another movie that I have not viewed. Thanks for your review of it. I found Alan Lancaster's comment as interesting to read as what you wrote. War is a messy business for everyone involved.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      14 months ago

      Thank you for reading and your input. In researching the article I read about one incident where British prisoners were mowed down. There were only 2 survivors. One made it to Britain but oddly his account wasn't believed until after the war. The second survivor was recaptured and spend the war in a POW camp. When he returned to Britain with his account the investigated the incident. The captain who ordered the executions was convicted and hanged.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      14 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      I haven't seen this film yet, although I've seen a lot of others beginning with another film titled "Dunkirk" from the French point of view with Jean Paul Belmondo in the lead. Recriminations were aimed by the French at the British for not evacuating more. Horror stories about the withdrawal from Belgium including two involving the SS' treatment of POWs, notably herdiing them into a barn and throwing in grenades, and another just mowing them down and then throwing in a grenade to finish them off.

      Elsewhere, in the west of France the French gave a good account of themselves in fighting, and that was after their high command had thrown in the towel, Petain surrrendering and setting up the Vichy government. France was in a mess, their senior officers relying on dispatch riders (they had one phone at their HQ in Paris).

      "Atonement" was the most recent Dunkirk venture, switching backwards and forwards and partly using the seafront at Redcar in my own neck of the woods (east of Middlesbrough). It was a long-drawn-out love story you could easily lose track of.

      Nice summary, Robert. Dunkirk was pretty much a British near-disaster, like the Anzio landing where Maj. Gen John Lucas' 'beached whale' allowed Kesselring to send in his gigantic rail gun nicknamed 'Anzio Annie'... Things could've gone badly wrong. Another near disaster for us was the withdrawal from Crete. Prince Philip's ship 'Cossack' having survived the evacuation from Crete was torpedoed in the Atlantic on convoy duty soon after.

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