The wind whipped the water into a choppy grey mixture.
Three big ships settled at anchor, seemingly in the foreground but far enough from the coast to dissuade any thought of swimming to them.
Amid a haze on the horizon was land, only recognisable because you knew it was there.
Cottesloe Beach not long after daybreak…but it served as a simile for the beach at Dunkirk in 1940. The German army had driven the Allied forces of British, Belgian and French soldiers to the west coast of France. It was get into the water or get killed – unless the British could muster enough boats to get the soldiers home, hundreds of thousands of them.
I looked at my ocean and thought of the men and boys waiting in isolation at that French beach. Thought of death behind you and a water wall in front of you. Thought of the desperation of waiting for rescue from a homeland that may be so desperately ashamed of you: losers amid a historical record of winners. Waiting for rescue which may never come.
It is testament to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017) I was thinking this. It had been three days since I had seen it yet the film was haunting me. It made me cry uncontrollably for reasons I don’t know. I am tearful writing this.
Like Saving Private Ryan (1998) and its famous Normandy beach scenes (when the good guys came back four years later and began to wreak their revenge on the despicable), Dunkirk does a lot with images and even more with sound. It draws threads of individual tales into one narrative and it delivers powerfully.
It is a movie I found hard to fault. It gripped me from the first moments until the final scenes. It did not preach about good and evil but delivered a sermon on the futility of war and how luck can be as much a part of survival as bravery or cowardice.
Apart from the music which played when the flotilla of private yachts and other seaworthy vessels finally came to rescue the desperate soldiers, it was a perfect movie. On a second viewing, even this did not intrude. Hans Zimmer’s score was as much a star of the film as some of the great actors appearing.
Outstanding performances depicting stiff upper lip types to common working boys now in uniform; from stoic Dads to teenagers who want to amount to something in their lives.
It’s a bloke’s film (I saw one or two nurses but war then was about men). It had some corny dialogue but that’s the way I imagine those types of British officers spoke in that era….and it had Tom Hardy!
Granted he was hidden behind a mask in a Spitfire pilot’s uniform and didn’t get to show much of his acting cred but he was in it. That’s enough for me. The guy is the best thing going around in TV or film. (See Legend (2015) if you doubt this or catch TV’s Peaky Blinders where he plays a cameo). Hardy’s CV is a lot more extensive and I urge anyone to find something he has been in and watch him.
Kenneth Branagh, once the recognised successor to the Oliver-Gielgud-Guinness generation, was there as a naval commander. So too was Mark Rylance as Mr Watson, emblematic of the thousands of boat owners who crossed the English Channel to pick up their boys.
And there were ‘kids’. Most notably Harry Styles of One Direction fame but Fionn Whitehead was brilliant as Tommy, the first soldier we see and who we feel will never get off France; so too were Tom Glynn-Carney as Rylance’s son; Jack Lowden as a pilot who ditches his plane into the sea; and Aneurin Barnard as Gibson, a French soldier dressed in British kit so he can escape early. Cillian Murphy (more in Hardy’s age group) played a shivering soldier rescued from an upturned hulk.
It was like being 20 again and watching a 1970s epic where every Hollywood star got to play a cameo. In Dunkirk a few established greats played alongside a group of potential stars.
All the while you are gripped by the tension, the exasperation and despair, the heroism and the stoicism of the Brits.
Dunkirk had a certain rah-rah but not like the Americans would have done it. It provided a tale of how the world was 77 years back and gave some subtle indications of how western society may have lost its compass bearing. People will always be self serving and selfish but there is still a lot of room for teamwork and genuine compassion.
This is the best film I have seen since American Beauty (1999).