9 September 2018



'400,000 men couldn't get home. So home came for them.'

This movie actually seems to follow on directly from where DARKEST HOUR leaves off, although DUNKIRK came out first. DARKEST HOUR (2017) tells the story of Winston Churchill's early years as Prime Minister of Britain, culminating in the terrible and dispiriting events leading up to what we now know as the Evacuation of Dunkirk.

DUNKIRK (2017) tells that exact story, as the 1958 film of the same name also did. I'll be honest and say that I prefer the original 1958 film. It's got all the heart and soul that Christopher Nolan's film is lacking.

The 2017 version is technically proficient and has all the facts in place but it's as cold as a witch's tit, if you'll excuse my vernacular. I know it's been billed as one of the greatest war films ever made but it's only factually accurate, that's all. Where's the love? Where's the bloody dialogue, come to that, the spoken interaction between the characters?

Christopher Nolan himself has obviously heard these accusations levelled at himself because he replies by saying: "The empathy for the characters has nothing to do with their story. I did not want to go through the dialogue, tell the story of my characters... The problem is not who they are, who they pretend to be or where they come from. The only question I was interested in was: Will they get out of it? Will they be killed by the next bomb while trying to join the mole? Or will they be crushed by a boat while crossing?" Christopher Nolan.

Well, I'm sorry but I disagree, Mr. Nolan. I hope I'm not alone in saying that I need to know just a little bit, even, about a character before I can commit to caring about his safety and well-being. It's kind of the equivalent of jumping into bed with someone on only five minutes' acquaintance. Fun, maybe, but how deep- excuse the pun- can you really be going?

I tuned out completely during the airborne bits because not only was I not aware of a back story for the characters but I couldn't even see their faces in the flying goggles. They had names like Farrier and Collins but so what? I didn't know them from a hole in the sand on Dunkirk Beach.

It was hopeless to try to connect with them so in the end I just left it and waited for the bits on the civilian yacht, which were the best bits by far because they had a human face. I could connect and empathise with these characters because I at least had an idea of what their deal was.

My favourite bits were the bits on the civilian yacht, as I said. I loved the character of Mister Dawson. When the call goes out in Britain for civilian boats to cross the channel to France to help evacuate as many soldiers as possible from Dunkirk- they're trapped there like sitting ducks while the German Army closes in around them- he and his teenage son Peter answer that call immediately.

They're bringing with them a young Sea Cadet called George. George is played by Barry Keoghan, a young Irish actor whom I once met in person at a screening of his film MAMMAL, in which he co-stars with Australian actress Rachel Griffiths (MURIEL'S WEDDING, BLOW).

Anyway, George has always been told, or at least he feels, that he'll never amount to anything. He's proud as Punch to be accompanying the two Dawsons, father and son, on their mission, one of the bravest missions ever accomplished by civilians in wartime. Even by just coming this far with them, he's already achieved something major in my book.

I can't imagine our current generation, the Instagram generation, responding to a call such as the one sent out by Winston Churchill in 1940, can you? They'd raise a lot of awareness of
the cause on social media and they'd change their profile pictures to the relevant country's flag but as to actually doing anything, well, I don't know.

At the very most, they might muster an online petition or even a wee protest march but anything else, anything that involved the rolling-up of sleeves and the putting of noses to the grindstone, well, you could probably forget about it. That thought makes me very, very sad. It looks like Grampa Simpson from THE SIMPSONS was right. Maybe theirs was the best generation.

Anyway, Mister Dawson, Peter and George very quickly get to do some good by picking up a shell-shocked soldier whose ship was wrecked by the Germans. Played by Cillian Murphy, he's billed only as the 'Shivering Soldier.' He's thrilled to bits to be rescued but, when he discovers that the little sea-craft is headed back towards Dunkirk, the very hell-hole he's just escaped from, he goes bananas.

I'm not going back there, he tells Mister Dawson. Nothing on God's green Earth could induce me to go back there. Mister Dawson replies sympathetically but firmly: I'm sorry, son, but we've got a job to do. We've GOT to go back. A terrible impasse has been reached...

The land bits were very confusing as well, mainly because all the young dark-haired lads looked the same. I recognised Harry Styles from boyband ONE DIRECTION as a young dark-haired lad who doesn't want to give a place on a possible rescue boat to a 'bloody Frog,' even though the French were on the same side as the British in that war. You're mean, Harry Styles. I hope it took forever to get that oil out of your lovely boyband hair...!

Kenneth Branagh was quite nice and sympathetic as a posh naval officer called Commander Bolton. When the little civilian ships are coming and he's asked what he sees through the binoculars and a big cheesy grin spreads slowly over his face and he says just one word, 'Home,' it's hard not to be pleased for him, for all of them. A few more moments like that and we might have gotten ourselves a decent little film. Take note, film-makers. Take note.

There wasn't even a single shot of a soldier gazing moon-faced at a tattered photograph of a girlfriend, childhood dog, motorbike or any other type of loved one. No-one wrote any letters or postcards home either during the interminable waiting period, waiting endlessly to be rescued, and no-one, absolutely no-one, wrote so much as a line of poetry for future generations of school-children to puzzle over while scratching their little noggins in bemusement, tongues peeping out from the corners of their mouths, ink-stained from chewing their pens in befuddlement.

I'll never forget the sub-plot in the original 1958 DUNKIRK movie in which Richard Attenborough plays a British chap called John Holden. During the Phoney War, the bits leading up to Dunkirk, he's making quite a nice tidy profit from his factory, which manufactures buckles to be used in the war.

Not only that, but his work, which he's managed to convince the authorities is 'essential' to the War Effort, has gotten him nicely out of having to enlist in the Army. You can imagine some of his fellow Englishmen jibing at him behind his back, calling him a draft-dodger and a coward.

But when he successfully makes it home from Dunkirk after answering Winnie's call like everyone else who did likewise, it's one of the warmest moments in the film. That's the kind of thing you remember forever. There were a lot of those moments in the 1958 DUNKIRK. I'm just saying, is all...!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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