Dunkirk, a movie review
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
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?"
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!
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
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!