Dunkirk. A Powerful film but lacking in scale

 In WW2

Earlier this week I went to see the movie ‘Dunkirk’ at the cinema. I had heard a lot of positive reviews from notible historians and personalities on my Twitter feed – a lot more than for any other similar film of recent years – so I was full of optimism and hope that, this time, Hollywood had produced a war film that did its historical subject full and proper justice. And actually, it has. Kind of.

If you haven’t seen it, I won’t go into great detail of the film – mainly because my short-term memory is so bad I couldn’t recount much of the story line if my life depended on it – but also, I don’t want to spoil it for you!

The story is powerful and intense in it’s portrail of some of the personal stories that made up the evacuations, and it knits together the plight of the infantry, the bravery of the owners of the little ships and the determination of the Royal Air Force and Navy to get as many men off of the Dunkirk beaches as possible. Yet despite this I left the cinema feeling something was not quite right with it all.

Yes, there were some specific historical innacuracies with regards to some of the uniforms – but to be honest only the super geeky would even notice and care about those. No, the nagging doubt that was eating at me was a bit bigger than that – quite literally.

I was listening to Radio 2 yesterday and there was a phone-in where people were discussing how much they knew of the evacuations – it was very obvious that there are a lot of people out there that knew very little of the evacuations before they saw the film. So I guess the film has at least got the general public talking and taking interest in this particular part of history. Which can only be a good thing.

The thing that makes Dunkirk so remarkable is the sheer scale of the operation. Over 350,000 British and French soldiers were evacuated from the beaches between 27th May and 4th June 1940 – but at no point during the film did you get the sense of those kind of numbers. The cinematic beaches were practically empty, the men were lined up in orderly lines waiting for their ships to come in and there was no real indication either of the 68,111 British soldiers that were killed or captured.

Eye witness reports tell of low cloud and large fires that blew smoke all over the beaches to add to the mayhem, yet there was none of this either. I know that the producer refused to use any CGI in the film and that is completely his decision, but it has left his film with a lack of  feeling for the true scale of what really went on during those fateful days in 1940. And, with so many people in England not really knowing much about the evacuations (At least, according to the what I heard on the Jeremy Vine show) I wonder whether if the film has missed a little bit of a trick?

Saying all of this, it is still a remarkable film. If you haven’t seen it yet, I thoroughly recommend it – get your tickets and go!

If you want to know a few facts about the Dunkirk Evacuations – check out my SlideShare on it below.

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