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Dunkirk, a movie review

Updated on September 2, 2017
lawrence01 profile image

I love a good movie, and I love history, so when a movie comes out that deals with a period in history I'm 'All in'


Why a review?

This week I'm taking a bit of a break from the series that I've been writing, and catching up on some hubs that I've wanted to write for a couple of weeks.

Okay, one hub that I wanted to write for a few weeks.

A few weeks ago I got the chance to go see the movie 'Dunkirk' and I took it, it really is a great movie, but it's also a very different type of movie to what you might expect!

It's a big movie 'Blockbuster' but totally unlike any movie that Hollywood (actually I think it was Pinetree studios in England) and one that just 'draws you in'

'Hope is a weapon, survival is victory!"

That's the slogan from the movie, and it's the tone that it sets, just surviving the ten days of hell was a moral victory, and if you're like me, that's how you come out of the cinema feeling.

Not the first

Christopher Nolan, Not the first

First of all, the movie isn't actually the first one made about the historic events, there was one made back in the late 1950s that kind of set the 'myth' that's surrounded Dunkirk ever since.

The movie back in the 50s though was a very different type of movie, it wove a great story into the events, and was a classic in many ways.

Christopher Nolan (the director) does something very different with this movie, he lets the history itself tell the story.

I'm not sure what I expected to see in the movie, I think I was just hoping that Hollywood wouldn't make a total hash of the story and change it so much from the real events that you just don't recognise it, I needn't have worried.

First, a bit of background.

Most of us weren't alive when the war broke out, and we might think we know the events that led up to some things, but it might be good just to explain a little of what led up to Dunkirk, as you get no explanation whatsoever in the movie (and that adds to the tension)

In early September 1939 Germany invaded Poland on a pretext that Poland had violated Germany's territory in a 'commando style' raid (It was actually German stormtroopers disguised as Polish forces intent on causing the war).

Britain and France gave Germany 48 hours to pull back, the Germans ignored the ultimatum and on 3rd September 1939 both of them declared war, but did nothing to help Poland.

By May 1940 nothing had happened, Britain and France had mobilized 140 divisions of their forces, Germany had 140 divisions facing them, and it looked like a 'replay of the first world war' was going to happen, but Germany had a plan.

May 16th 1940 Germany launched an attack with 10 armoured divisions through the Ardenne forest in Southern Belgium and Holland, facing them were nobody! They drove through totally unopposed as the bulk of the British and French forces were further North.

Next came the dive bombers, blowing a path clear for the Germans all the way to the English channel, and totally cutting off four hundred thousand men on the beaches of Dunkirk

But what about the Movie?

Okay, that's enough rambling on and 'setting the scene' what about the movie itself. Actually the movie sets the scene pretty well with the opening shot of eight British soldiers slowly making their way through the street of the town.

The only thing moving is the wind blowing some pamphlets around, you're not sure where they came from, but it's pretty likely they were dropped from somewhere, or something.

One of the soldiers picks them up, he looks at it and sees a map of France , with a big German Swastika and a little town in the corner with a union jack there, all is says is "We have you surrounded"

Then the machine guns open up.

See it through their eyes

What Christopher Nolan said about his movie
What Christopher Nolan said about his movie | Source

The Movie

Nolan says it took thirty years from the time he had the idea for the movie until he felt he had the experience and skills to do the story Justice, it shows in every clip of the movie as he literally let history tell it's own story.

The only Germans you see in the movie are the Messerschmitts, Stukas and Heinkels as they bomb the helpless troops lined up trying to get off the beaches, literally like fish in a barrel.

Nolan takes not one, but three separate stories, each with a unique timeline, yet at points they intersect with each other to show how the each depended on the other to do their part, and as such it's a masterful way of telling the whole!

Part 1 'The Soldier'

He's in the opening scene, and in the movie, you're going to be with him for the whole ten days as he loses seven of his mates in the French town, he makes it to the French defences (sixty thousand French and British troops fought a rearguard action, even though they knew they would face certain capture). by now they had the whole german Army, over four hundred thousand men facing them.

Then onto the beaches where they were at the mercy of the German Luftwaffe who could 'pick them off' at will, then, if they got onto a boat they still had to run the Gauntlet of the waiting Submarines and Bombers to get across the channel. You get to see all that, and all the while he's wondering "where the hell is the RAF?"

The soldier

Imagine waiting, only to be bombed constantly
Imagine waiting, only to be bombed constantly | Source

Part 2 'The Airmen'

Next you see the Royal Air Force and what they tried to do. Faced with a terrible choice of trying to conserve planes for the next battle, the one they knew would be a "do or die" they still had to try and help the men off the beaches.

Following a flight of three Spitfires as they cross the channel to try and protect what they can from the Luftwaffe, right in the Luftwaffe's own backyard!

Their operational height was around 20,000 feet, at that height they got the best economy for the fuel and performance, but they're ordered down to 1,600 feet where they'll use up three times the fuel, you hear them told they'll only be able to stay there half an hour maximum.

Half way across the channel, they get their first taste of what's to come, a German trap, a Heinkel Bomber heading for a British ship, what they don't see until they're right on them are the German Fighters waiting for the Spitfires, every 'Spit' they take down now, is one less in the upcoming Battle of Britain.

I really don't want to spoil the movie for anyone, but let me just say that none of the flying you see in the movie is CGI!!! It was all done the 'old fashioned' way of strapping a camera to the plane and 'flying the damn thing'

And yes, I checked out the information and believe it or not, it's actually the MK1 and MKV Spitfires you see in the movie, exactly the right plane that took part in the Battle (actually the MKV came out in early 1941, but the MK1 was spot on!)

The scene where the Last surviving Spitfire, out of fuel and no hope of reaching England takes out a Diving Stuka and saves the people in the last story had our whole cinema cheering, and it was a movie!)

The movie tells you that you only see one hour of flying time, but that's all their fuel lasted for at that height, just enough time to get there, patrol for a half hour and maybe get back!

The Airman

These men never knew if they'd make it back.
These men never knew if they'd make it back. | Source

The Trailer

Part 3 'The Civilian'

As soon as the evacuation was given the 'go ahead' the Royal Navy knew they wouldn't have the ships to carry it out. They ordered every small ship capable of crossing the channel to be 'commandeered' and most were crewed by Royal Navy personnel, but some of the owners literally said "Screw you, you're not taking my boat to bloody war without me!" and the took their own boats across the channel to pull the men off the beaches because the Navy had taken such high losses that they couldn't get into the port anymore!

Incidentally, the 'little boat' in the movie is actually a veteran of the real Dunkirk, she was really there, pulling men off the beaches!

For the little boat, you'll only see six hours, but that's how long it took her to cross the channel and get the men off the beaches.

Actually it's the little boat that in many ways is the hero of the movie, on it you get to see first hand what PTSD does when they pick up a survivor who's been bombed, strafed and torpedoed only to be told they're taking him straight back 'into the jaws of hell' to get more men out.

The real Heroes

The real 'Heroes' the original ships, back in Dunkirk for the 75th anniversary
The real 'Heroes' the original ships, back in Dunkirk for the 75th anniversary | Source

Some startling facts about the Battle

it would be easy to gloss over what happened there, but the reality of the Battle speaks volumes.

At the start of the Battle for France, the British, French and Germans were pretty evenly matched, but the Germans had two advantages.

1) They wrote the book on Tank warfare! The Tank was a British invention, but the man who's credited with literally 'writing' the book on how they should be used in Battle was German, and he was in command of the Armoured divisions that smashed through the lines, driving all the way through to Dunkirk where Hitler ordered the stop.

2) They had experience. Many of the German troops had already been involved in the Spanish civil war, their tactics had been refined and they were used to them, interestingly enough the tactics they used were invented by the British forty years before, but the Germans used them to devastating effect.

The British and French were thoroughly routed, and the French didn't 'capitulate' until the British made it clear they weren't going to be sending more troops across the channel.

The Royal Air Force lost over four hundred planes and pilots in the Battle for France, most had been lost as their airfields were overrun before they could get 'into the air'.

The Royal Navy lost over two hundred ships in the evacuation, but 300,000 British, 40,000 French and 15,000 Belgian and Dutch troops were taken off the beaches in that ten days.

What did I think?

You've probably worked out I absolutely loved the movie, there were a few historical inaccuracies I've found out in it, but all of them can be pretty much forgiven as they don't detract from the story told.

The 'Destroyer' that gets sunk in the movie was actually a French one as the only British Destroyer from that period still afloat is HMS Belfast, a floating Museum in London, but even she was built after Dunkirk!

The Yellow Nosecones on the German Me109s. They weren't painted on until the Battle of Britain simply because Dunkirk was the first time they met a plane that could 'mix it' with them and come out the better (Both the Hurricane and Spitfire were a match for the Me109) so they had to have a way of telling which was which for the pilots and anti aircraft gunners.

Dunkirk itself wasn't used for the filming, mainly because the whole town was almost obliterated in the fighting and almost nothing of that period survives, but the movie had it's world Premier in the town.

The Movie has done the 'rounds' of the cinemas now, and will soon be out on DVD, all I can say is it's well worth the DVD, but make sure you're ready for combat, because when those Spitfires take one the Germans, it's like you're right there in the cockpit with them!


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    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      13 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      So true

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      13 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      So true

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      During the war there were reports of the Germans using captured American planes to infiltrate the allied formations. After the war they asked the German pilots about this. The German answer was why would we do such a stupid thing? The Germans knew anything trying to enter a bomber formation, regardless of aircraft type or national symbol, would be shot at.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      13 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Following on from what you said here, the records show that 'Guy Gibson' the commander of the famous 'Dam buster' squadron was shot down and killed later in the war in an identical incident to what you said here.

      he was flying a 'Mosquito' at the time on a 'pathfinder' mission when it was damaged and had to descend, the navigator had been hit and the only way they could find their way home was by following the bomber formation.

      Sadly the tail gunner in one of the Lancasters mistook him for an Me110 nightfighter and blasted him out of the sky!

      They happen, and it's not always anyone's fault, but both sides did things to try and prevent them.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      14 months ago

      Thank you Lawrence for reading and sharing. There is the reverse side to the friendly fire argument. I remember reading an account where a novice RAF bomber gunner spotted another aircraft on a mission. He gave it a second look and saw it was another RAF bomber so he didn't shoot at it. After the mission he told an experienced gunner what happened. The experienced gunner told him never to do that again, it could have been a night fighter. He told him, "you shoot every time." The moral: Taking the time to be sure of what is coming at you is the time the bad guy needs to kill you.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      14 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Just as it was difficult for the people at the time to know who the enemy was. The RAF lost a number of planes to 'friendly fire' during the battle as the Royal Navy anti aircraft gunners were very inexperienced, and you get less than a second to recognise the plane before they 'open up'

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      14 months ago

      I also enjoyed the movie. Having yellow nose Bf-109s (Buchon Hispano HA-1112-M1L) for the movie was so the audience could tell who was who. It was a good idea because those realistic scenes would have been difficult for the audience to figure out who was who. A great movie review.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Glad you liked the review

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Yeah, it was pretty powerful.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      15 months ago from United Kingdom

      Yes, that scene when the boy pointed out to the man that all they did was survive. I think that's all anyone asked of them.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I think you were feeling exactly what the men at the time felt, seeing hope crushed time after time, and each time they knew home was just over the horizon!

      One scene has them back in home convinced they let the nation down, not just defeat, but utter humiliation, then someone passes the a Beer through the train window, that's when they realised 'Survival is victory'!'



    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Sadly I don't watch all that many movies, but I might change that a bit with the feedback I got from this review.

      Truth is, this moview as special as I'm pretty sure that my Grandfather was at Dunkirk, but he'd never talk about it, all he'd say was, "The Germans weren't as stupid as the movies make them to be!"

      For me, this was the first movie that tried to deal with the fact the trauma was so great that they couldn't talk about it afterwards.

      I'll try and do more reviews though.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I can understand where you're coming from, I've seen a couple of Chris Nolan's movies before, so I knew that whatever he did he'd try to be accurate but would have a 'different take' on things (making the movie 'Interstellar' he actually had Physicists consulting on what the inside of a Black hole might be like!)

      The movie isn't meant to be an 'in depth' look at Dunkirk, but meant to be an 'eye witness' of what it was actually like for the men and women there.

      One criticism that was levelled at the movie was that there wasn't much about the French who stayed behind to fight, and that might be valid, but one comment I read made by a French lady at the premiere was "Without Dunkirk there was no Churchill, and without Churchill there would be no De Gaulle!"

      By the way, 'Churchill' is on my Christmas wish list!!

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Im sure you'll enjoy the movie, as it has a good balance of action and personal story in it.

      There isn't a lot of dialogue in the movie, but that actually helps propel the story along, you're getting to see what it was like from the perspective of being there with the characters.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Thank you for the compliment. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

      In some ways the movie 'cuts to the chase' and you're straight into it, with almost no explanation, but for me, that added to the realism as i doubt any there knew much of what was going on.

      enjoy the movie

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      15 months ago from United Kingdom

      I just saw this film this weekend. I thought it was a good film, but I don't know if I could ever watch it again.

      The visuals and the sounds were jarring. Watching hope crushed time and time had me in tears for a good part of it. By the time the boats arrived at Dunkirk, I was so emotionally drained I couldn't feel anything apart from relief. I couldn't cheer for their arrival because I couldn't be sure if they would all make it back okay. I wonder if that's how the real soldiers felt?

      Anyway, it was a good film and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. I would highly encourage watching it, in fact.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I see where you're coming from, and fair enough.

      There are some scenes that are hard to watch, but two things I like about the movie are

      1) You never see the enemy.

      2) The whole thing is about hope.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      15 months ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting review!

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed. It's a well made movie, and the director did a great job in telling the story.

      There's enough dialogue to keep things moving, but not enough to 'sidetrack' things.

    • Paladin_ profile image


      15 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Although I like the way the scenes in the movie were filmed (very riveting and very lifelike), I was overall disappointed in "Dunkirk." I wasn't particularly happy with the way the film was organized, and didn't figure out the 'three perspectives' aspect of it until about half-way through the movie.

      To be fair, part of my disappointment is that I expected a broader, more historical take on the event, not the very personal individual stories that the movie presented. Still, I feel that the presentation of the individual stories could have been more streamlined and less clunky.

      That said, I'm chomping at the bit to see "Churchill" (one of my favorite historical figures of all time), but I have to wait until November. I only hope the script and direction are equal to Gary Oldman's enormous talent! I can hardly wait!

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      15 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, you should add "movie reviews" to the list of hubs you routinely write, as this one is very well presented. I will look for this on Netflix. Thank you.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      15 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thanks buddy for this review. I will consider it but I think it will give me a headache as I cry to much too easily.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      15 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for sharing this well-written review, Lawrence. I have only heard good things about this movie. I will certainly watch it as soon as I can.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It's a movie I will definitely rent and watch at home. Great of those real life events that was fascinating, and evidently it translated well onto the "silver screen." Thanks for the review!

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      'Churchill' is on my 'to watch' list. I'm hoping someone gets the message of a DVD for Christmas.

      I can understand what you're saying, the movie is a tribute to all those involved, it's about the survivors.

      My Grandfather was probably at Dunkirk, he never talked about it, but after seeing the movie, for me, it explains why, it's a 'no holds barred' yet very sympathetic to those who were there.

    • profile image

      Glenis Rix 

      15 months ago

      The film came to my local cinema some weeks ago and although I'm an avid film fan (organise a cinema group for my friends) I couldn't face this film. The troops had a terrible time and I don't like to watch re-enactments of suffering. The heroic men in little boats who voluntarily risked so much crossing the Channel to rescue soldiers trapped on the beaches are one of the glorious events in British history. Another recent film worth watching that covered the same events but from the perspective of the War Cabinet is 'Churchill'.


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