Nolan’s Dunkirk: A Populist Misrepresentation?

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So I went to see Dunkirk last night, and I was not all that blown away, if I’m honest. It’s probably fair to say I was unimpressed. In general overview, I felt it was over-sentimentalised, overly white, and not in any way representative of what was in real life a genuinely amazing story. So I’m going to make myself really unpopular here, because I gather everyone else loved it, but these, to my mind, were the key issues…

First criticism: Scale.
Dunkirk was a MASSIVE operation. The film never really seemed to get to grips with the scale of the¬†actual Dunkirk. There should have been hundreds of thousands on the beach, there should have been around 800 small vessels coming to take them off, there should have been far more planes – the RAF flew over two and a half thousand fighter sorties and around a thousand bombing raids/reconnaissance flights during the evacuation, downing 262 enemy aircraft. They were further away keeping the Luftwaffe off the troops on the beach, which is why they later came in for some undeserved criticism of not having given enough support. I just felt that the film really never gave us that sense of the huge numbers involved. It just didn’t. And it could have done. And it never explained the infantry moans about the RAF – if they had genuinely only sent three planes (as it appeared in the film) then that would have been definite cause for complaint!

Second criticism: Whitewash.
The real Dunkirk evacuation was heavily populated with both French and British colonial forces. We see none of that in the film. Where were the four mule companies of the Indian Army Service Corps who were evacuated with the troops at Dunkirk and performed an incredible important role in the supply chain? Where were the 65% of the French troops from West African countries such as Morocco? Where were the Africans and Asians who represented around a quarter of the crew of most merchant shipping coming to the rescue? You’d be forgiven for thinking after watching Nolan’s version of Dunkirk that the war was entirely fought by white men. For the record, it very much wasn’t.

Third criticism? Harry Styles.
Really? Just, really? I can’t really be bothered to break this one down. Well done, Harry; you can say some lines and didn’t disgrace yourself. You’ve got no business being a relatively major character in what purported to be a serious film. Please leave it to the professionals next time or go and do something funny with Guy Ritchie.

Well that’s it. Bring on the hate.

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One response »

  1. I haven’t seen the film and probably won’t (I don’t watch many films at all) but I had the feeling from reading the hype that it was going to be all about how Harry Styles kept a stiff upper lip in difficult circumstances. It hasn’t been mentioned here (in France) at all, probably for the reasons you cite. Dunkirk was a massive operation by the British to rescue Allied troops. They did rescue French troops, though the rear guard was French and left behind for the Germans, but all the French troops evacuated were sent straight back to be taken prisoner. No wonder the ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk isn’t thought of in the same way outside the UK. History is written by the victors, and since women, children, civilians and ethnic minorities are never the victors in war, should we be surprised that war films are all about heroic white male soldiers saving the world?

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