Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * * *
Cast: Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Brannagh, Aneurin Barnard, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Damien Bonnard, Lee Armstrong, James Bloor, Barry Keoghan, Jack Lowden, Luke Thompson, Michael Biel, Constantin Balsan, Billy Howle, Mikey Collins, Callum Blake, Dean Ridge, Bobby Lockwood, Will Attenborough, Tom Nolan, James D’Arcy, Matthew Marsh, Adam Long, Miranda Nolan, Bradley Hall, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Brett Lorenzi, Michael Fox, Brian Vernal, Elliott Tittensor, Harry Richardson, Jochum ten Haaf, Johnny Gibson, Kim Hartman, Calum Lynch, Charley Palmer Rothwell, Tom Gill, John Nolan, Bill Milner, Jack Riddiford, Harry Collett, Eric Richard.
World War Two still both fascinates and resonates with the British as an island race, sometimes for the wrong reasons or the mistaken belief, sometimes for the most powerful of intentions and grounds, for every battle won against the spectre and scourge of Nazism, there are moments in which the British take pride where they should not.
Yet somehow and perhaps down to the British sense of making a victory out of a calamitous defeat, think the defence of Rorke’s Drift after the slaughter of Isandlwana, times in which the British psyche has been resolved, made iron like, their thinking is defined by a single course of history and in the last hundred years, arguably none so more a powerful phrase as “showing Dunkirk spirit” has permeated to echo down through the generations more than anything else.
Dunkirk resonates because of the backs to the wall moment in which World War Two, at least in Europe, should and could have been lost, that the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of men from the beach on northern France would have proved too much of a military fight back, the Battle of Britain would have been a foregone conclusion.
To show this operation, the liberation of all those men so that they might fight another day has been done before but not in the same incredible way that director Christopher Nolan envisaged as he portrayed events across the three avenues of that decisive moment in British history, the week long wait on the beaches, the day at sea and the hour in the air, in which he rights a wrong of a myth that the R.A.F. were nowhere to be found during the battle for Dunkirk.
Christopher Nolan deserves much praise for bringing Dunkirk to the screen, and it should be seen as a film that sits in the pantheon of World War Two film greats, films that capture the disease of war and not grovel at the feet of self importance.
Aside from the superb cast, including Mark Rylance at his most compassionate, Cillian Murphy at his most intriguing and Fionn Whitehead at his most superb, is the use of sound in the film, the ticking of the clock which is inescapable, the sense of Time deserting the men at the dockside, at the mercy of the sea and the spite of the Luftwaffe is outstanding, a true moment of brilliance in cinema.
If any film shows Britain’s part in the war, their contribution to ensuring that the sheer evil of Nazism did not prevail, then Dunkirk is it. The British always like to remind people that they won the war, on their own they didn’t of course but they gave the world that most invaluable of weapons that day when the little ships sailed across the Channel, they gave the world Time.
An outstanding, incredible portrayal of a nation’s psyche in a period which was perhaps its finest hour and one that the British have seemingly forgotten as it looks inward, as it turns it back disastrously on Europe once again.
Ian D. Hall