It’s 1940 and the Nazis are overpowering the British army, forcing them to retreat to Dunkirk in an effort to return home to England. The English channel is all that stands in the way of the 400,000 soldiers that are stranded on the beach. The story begins with Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), making his way through the town as propaganda is being dropped from the sky, informing them that the enemy are closing in. After a brief dash to avoid the bullets that begin raining down on him and some fellow soldiers, he barely manages to make it to the beach where the immense desperation of the situation becomes apparent. Thousands of men lined up, waiting for something to free them while bodies wash up on the beach. The cinematic scale is, as you’d expect from Christopher Nolan, impressive. And it doesn’t let up from then on.
We follow three different stories, covering land, sea and air and spanning differing time-frames. Intersecting and even overtaking each other at crucial moments, which sounds confusing but actually works very well. After being introduced to the perspective on land, which then continues to play out over a week, we’re introduced to Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) as he prepares to set off from England by yacht along with his son and another local boy, loaded with lifejackets and keen to do their bit to help bring our boys home. This storyline is set to play out over the period of one day. Finally, we’re introduced to RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy), whose story will play out over an hour. He’s up in the sky, over the channel. As we alternate between each story, momentum is never lost and the tension continues to grow as time, and available options, begin to dwindle. On land, bombs, bullets and torpedoes repeatedly prevent a successful escape, sinking boats and ships. Up in the air, a damaged fuel gauge means that Farrier has to constantly guesstimate how much fuel and time he’s got left before dropping out of the sky, while single-handedly taking out enemy planes in the process. Down on the water, Dawson and his small crew have their own drama after rescuing a stranded soldier (Cillian Murphy). Clearly a broken man who takes a turn for the worse upon realising that they’re not headed for home and are in fact on their way back to the hell that he’s just left behind.
Despite featuring a number of famous faces, probably the most surprising cast member of all is Harry Styles. Every time he features in a scene, and he does feature quite a bit, it kind of threw me off balance and I was just expecting him to cock the whole thing up. Luckily he doesn’t. This is a truly breathtaking movie, with no over the top CGI or gore and with everyone at the top of their game. Perfectly ramped up tension, accompanied by an intense musical score from the fantastic Hans Zimmer. The dogfights, featuring real spitfires filmed over the English Channel, are also incredible with the roar of their engines and bullets flying. The movie does an amazing job of fully immersing you in this pivotal moment of history. It’s truly edge of seat stuff throughout. Incredible.