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Released 21 July 2017
Director Christopher Nolan

Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Writer(s) Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas

United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, United States
Running Time 106 minutes
Genre Action, drama, history, war
Rating 12A

Nolan’s Battle Hymn.

From the moment that the first gun shots exploded from the sound system, I was enthralled by Dunkirk; a film that, in its ferocious intensity and dramatic economy, puts every other blockbuster of the year to shame. It is so intense in fact, that to call it a blockbuster (despite the fact that with Christopher Nolan behind the camera, the film will undoubtedly draw significant summer crowds), is to do it a disservice. That term conjures images of star-filled popcorn pleasures, whereas Dunkirk is more likely to leave you shell-shocked than elated.

It is May 1940, and the Allied forces have been driven back by the enemy to the beaches of Dunkirk, France. As 400,000 British troops line the beaches awaiting evacuation, they are open to attack from the air and the sea. As torpedoes claim their transportation vessels, the call goes out back home that every available ship should make its way to France to bring home the stranded soldiers. Cleverly, Nolan has taken a free-wheeling, montage approach to this narrative, flitting backwards and forwards in time between the beaches, the air and the sea. We are introduced to a range of characters, none of whom is singled out as a main protagonist, emphasising the fact that in war, everyone involved is facing their own Sisyphean challenge.

By keeping dialogue to an absolute minimum, Nolan creates a realistic depiction of these desperate, terrified men, as survival overshadows conversation. Although the characters are silent, the soundtrack certainly isn’t. Nolan bombards the audience with the sounds of war and the result is deeply affecting – the banshee wail of a swooping bomber is one not easily forgotten. Nolan’s frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer, ramps up the tension to unbearable levels with a score that is punctuated by a ticking pocket watch.

Dunkirk is undoubtedly Nolan’s best work to date and deserves a place amongst the greatest war films. Watching it, I found myself feeling upset – a knot forming in my stomach. This is testament to the power of the storytelling; far from being jingoistic, the film aims for realism. We never learn the backstory of these characters and can only get to know them through their actions, yet the fact that we live every terrible moment of this film with them makes for a powerful cinematic experience.

- Linda O’Brien