This is a visceral immersion into the ignominious retreat that
became a huge moral victory.
But it's interesting how differently Writer and
Director Christopher Nolan treats this unique story.
First, there are no Germans. Though
it's all about how the Germans had so soundly routed the French, British,
and Belgian troops that they found themselves suddenly trapped against the
sea. The Allies just hadn't
figured out how to counter the German “Blitzkrieg,” or “lightning
war,” but though all of that is a prelude to this movie, we don't really
hear about any of it. No
discussion of tactics. No war
rooms of generals or Chancellors or Prime Ministers.
The tale is told from the point of view of the British soldiers
themselves, either standing on the beach waiting to be rescued, or else up
in the Spitfires trying to counteract the Luftwaffe, the German air attack
that bombed any ship of any size trying to escape.
So Churchill's rescue plan is brilliantly simple:
ask every pleasure boat in England to cross the Channel and pick up
some troops. The Germans
couldn't attack them all. And
it took maybe 30,000 boats to rescue the 400,000 troops stranded and
strafed on the beach. It's a
fantastically unique tale of civilian bravery and chutzpah in the face of
a superior enemy force.
Director Nolan also supplies us with no romances, and no cutesy kid
triumphs, either. In fact, one
kid on a rescue boat gets rather brutally treated by a PTSD soldier.
And he's not the only soldier not exactly heroic.
Some tried to slip onto the Red Cross ship by helping transport the
wounded on portable stretchers. (But
ironically, those big, slow hospital ships were tempting targets for the
German dive bombers.) Some
tried to hide, but that was exactly the problem:
there was no place to go. And
some just plain tried to run away.
We're also treated to a few dogfights, that is, Spitfires and
Messerschmitts manuevering to shoot each other down.
What's not said is the tremendously high mortality rate for pilots
on both sides. But Director
Nolan just lets us experience the difficulty of aerial combat, but also
the vital necessity of air superiority for both naval and land-based
We experience the chaos of those harrowing days, but the explosions
and the loud score combine with some thick Cockney accents to make for a
sometimes-muddled dialogue. And
no, there's no real follow-up on what happens to the British troops who
were so fantastically rescued. Most,
of course, returned to fight another day, but that story is for the next
It's not sweet, it's not humorous, it's not charming,
It's rather grim and brutal and mind-numbingly violent, as you
would expect a war movie to be. But
it's also a compelling drama with an ending that we all know, but revel in