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Dunkirk: once more unto the beach

Starring Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy, director Christopher Nolan has created an extraordinary piece of cinema

20 July, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Dunkirk tells of a historic moment in our nation’s shared past

Director: Christopher Nolan
Certificate: 12a

“A BLAZING, ferocious sun beats down on a beach which offers no shade; none except for a few precious square inches beneath the lighthouse and the pier,” wrote “Cato” in the opening sentence of Guilty Men.

“The sun runs out shallow for many yards from the sand and beyond the beach; between it and the town the sand dunes rise, providing at least some pretence of cover. “Mark well the dunes, the shallow sea and most of all, the pier. The lives of 300,000 troops were to depend on those accidental amenities…”

The book, published by Victor Gollancz in 1940, was penned by three people: Michael Foot, Frank Owen and Peter Howard. It called on those responsible for the debacle of Dunkirk to step aside – published before the formation of a National Government led by Winston Churchill, it is one of the most bitter, stinging political polemics ever written, and until now was perhaps the most accessible insight and last word on what really happened in those awful weeks as the Nazi Blitzkrieg swamped Western Europe and the shambolic British Expeditionary force were partially saved by the actions of the navy and the little ships.

Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson

Director Christopher Nolan has now, 77 years later, offered a new, cinematic perspective on the Dunkirk of Guilty Men with a tremendous-looking big screen epic.

From the off, as we watch a young Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) race through the near-deserted streets of a northern French town, the fear all too real as he scrambles over garden walls and through alleyways to reach a beach that offers no safety. The story flips from the soldiers waiting patiently to be rescued to a leisure craft captained by Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), Kenneth Branagh’s naval Commander Bolton and Spitfire pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy).

Watching it on an IMAX screen was utterly immersive. Storytelling of a historic moment in our nation’s shared past, Dunkirk is an extraordinary, brilliant, comprehensive piece of cinema, and you suspect Cato would approve of its portrayal of the heroes it created and the Guilty Men to blame.


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