Saturday, 29 July 2017

You can practically see it from here

"We must be very careful not to assign this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations." - Winston Churchill

The reputation of the film 'Dunkirk' has been rather tarnished, at least in the circles in which I move, by Nigel Farage praising it and urging all 'youngsters' (sic) to go and see it. Clearly in Farage's fantasies he imagines that had he lived at the time he would have been one of the few, heroically dog-fighting in his Spitfire; whereas most other people assume that he would have been interned on the Isle of Man as a Nazi sympathiser. In any event, I don't think one can blame the film simply because of the delusions of one unpleasant shit.

What one can blame it for is being somewhat soulless and clichéd, which I'm afraid was rather my impression. It is technically accomplished and I was very impressed indeed by the cleverness of the way that the three time strands (an hour in the air, a day on the sea and a week on the land) are meshed together and interact one with another. But I didn't engage with the characters, felt no sense of threat or menace and was tempted to laugh out loud on a couple of occasions, especially I'm afraid at Sir Kenneth Branagh, or at least at his character. As others have observed he seems to be channelling Kenneth Moore, but even the man who sank the Bismark (and, of course, actually saw active wartime service in the Royal Navy) would have struggled to convince with the character's final speech.

"Get off my bridge, Branagh."

For the rivet counters amongst us there are plenty of oddities. Spitfires don't seem to have too much fuel but do apparently have unlimited ammunition. Mark Rylance's character can tell the difference between Spitfires and Hurricanes just by the sound of the engine, despite - as any fule kno - them both having the same one; a point which is made to look even more ridiculous when it is revealed that he has a personal link with Hurricanes. In fact the air section of the film plays most obviously to the myth and, right at the end, is the vehicle for the clunkiest metaphor that I can remember seeing in a film since the whole of 'Life of Pi'.

Having said all that, it passed a couple of hours pleasantly enough and gave me something to write about. The elder Miss Epictetus enjoyed it and despite her youth didn't seem any more likely to vote UKIP when we came out.


  1. You nailed my sentiments on "Dunkirk." The movie never pulled me in and engaged me with the characters. My wife, not knowing the historical context described it as a movie about "guys trying to get on boats and guys trying to get off boats." Who can argue with that? Branagh was no Henry V.

  2. I agree with your comments, indeed it seems one of Nolan's trademarks is a rather cool attitude to the characters. I think poor Branagh was not helped by being saddled with a lot of exposition. I was interested in the demographic of the audience; would it be half middle-aged military history nerds, half teen Harry Styles fans? A dangerous mixture.. In the end, I suspect some of the former, none of the latter. Discussing with my friend Dave aka 'The Grand Logothete' we agreed that us children of the 60s/70s were bound to want to see it, as we grew up on this stuff, it was unavoidable back then. "I used to sit and watch all those old war films with my Dad – the original Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, Bridge at Remagen, the Cruel Sea, the Longest Day, all that malarkey – before, more often than not, digging out my soldiers to replay them... Listening to my Dad’s stories about being on the Arctic convoys. Different times. The kids of tomorrow will have to listen to heroic stories about their dads’ involvement in badly mismanaged IT projects instead."