Smorgasbord Entertainment Review – Film – #Dunkirk – Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan


Not that I have more time on my hands… but with a movie theatre on the doorstep, and with pensioner rates, I do try to go as often as possible. Also, although we do not have any television service we buy films and television series to keep us entertained and I would like to share some of the ones we have enjoyed.

Yesterday we went to see the film Dunkirk written and directed by Christopher Nolan of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Prestige and Memento etc.

I have heard some first hand stories from my mother who was 23 in 1940 and newly engaged to my father. He was in the North Atlantic serving on a cruiser at the time, but she remembered the aftermath as the exhausted soldiers were trucked back from the coast through their Hampshire village. I believe that there were many mugs of tea and jam sandwiches made and handed out with sympathy that day.

The film has some heavy hitters in the main roles including Mark Rylance (small boat skipper) Tom Hardy (spitfire pilot) Kenneth Branagh (Naval Commander) and Cillian Murphy (army officer). And, with a role that acted as a thread throughout the action, the young Fionn Whitehead, at only 19, held the storyline together exceptionally well.

There is no doubt that the film’s production captured the raw horror and seemingly impossible events of those few days. Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers have arrived at Dunkirk desperate to get out of France. The French army are trying to defend the port but are coming under heavy fire and are beginning to join the British troops on the beach to escape.  Churchill needs as many of these men home as can be rescued; without them his remaining forces will be unable to repel an invasion if Hitler pushed across the channel.

The German army and the Luftwaffe are intent on making sure that these mainly undefended men on the sands of this desolate beach do not get off it. This resulted in strafing runs across the lines of men in and out of the water and the bombing of any vessels including hospital ships. Uboats torpedoed waiting minesweepers and destroyers and the situation looked hopeless.

This is where the 700 small boats came to the rescue captained by men like Mark Rylance (Mr. Dawson) and his son. They could get close enough to the sandy beach to take off dozens of men at a time and deliver them to the larger vessels out at sea.

There are two areas that I feel led to a confusing story line. There are three strands to the plot based on groups of men on the beach and mole (jetty), at sea and in the air.

My first criticism is that the three plots had a different timeline. If I had known that going in.. as you now do... I would not have spent the first 20 minutes wondering why some of the action was in the dark, and some were in broad daylight. Also events happened in one timeline and were then revisited showing them from either the sea or land perspective. It was a clever idea and of course at the end of the film it was all brought together. However, it could have been better edited I believe to make that clear.

My second beef could be put down to an age thing, where everyone under the age of 25 looks the same!  However, Fionn Whitehead, who as I mentioned did an excellent job, was cast alongside what appeared to be four or five look alikes. When some of the action is fast paced, in the dark or underwater, I had trouble keeping up with who was who. If you take a look at their profiles on IMDB.. you will see what I mean. James Bloor, Aneurin Barnard and Damien Bonnard.

There is an exception as I have to say Harry Styles stood out, but that may be because I like One Direction!

This is not to say that the acting was not superb, and certainly I would think Fionn Whitehead has an assured future. The main characters held their own with Tom Hardy as the dogged spitfire pilot and the magnificent Mark Rylance with his calm and compelling delivery.

Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) plays the part of a shell-shocked army officer demonstrating the impact of this few days on the spirit of even the bravest. (If you have not seen The Wind that Shakes the Barley I do recommend it). Cillian Murphy has been in a number of Christopher Nolan films including The Dark Night Trilogy and Inception.

Overall, I would recommend that you go and see it as a realistic and visually compelling depiction of one of the most decisive events of the Second World War.

It is also a fantastic cast of actors across all the roles who portray the horror of this brutal and merciless onslaught by enemy and the sea. It is fast based, heart stopping at times and fills you with an overwhelming sense of grief and admiration for those hundreds of thousands of young men, who went through this as a reality.

This was rightly a predominantly male cast but it should be noted that female army nurses were aboard ships that were sunk. Also we need to recognise that 200 ships and small boats were sunk with huge loss of life, as well as 1000 Dunkirk residents  who died in the bombings.

Be aware of the time-line going in and you will enjoy more, and also try and find some distinguishing marks for the younger actors so that you can keep track of them as the story unfolds.

I give the film 7.5 out of 10.

You might be interested in this article published in the Express in 2015 which details the events during these few days: http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/578885/Dunkirk-evacuation-World-War-Two-Germany-Britain

As a child I had a record which was much loved, the audio book of The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico which he wrote in 1946 which tells the story of one of the small ships that went to Dunkirk..I went on to watch the film with Richard Harris and Jenny Agutter and here is the link to both the book in print and Ebook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Snow-Goose-Small-Miracle-Essential-Penguin/0140299521

I hope you have enjoyed and as always welcome your feedback. thanks Sally

N.B Suzanne of https://patriciaruthsusan.wordpress.com/  commented that there were Indian soldiers also present on the beach waiting to be rescued and they were not mentioned in the film.  Here is an article that tells their story.

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/dunkirk-indian-army-christopher-nolan-movie/1/1006656.html

The film promises to be a 70mm spectacle that, early reviews say, is among Nolan’s best works. What you will probably not see on the silver screen is the little-known tale of the Indian Army troops who were in and around Dunkirk when the historic evacuation was carried out.

The soldiers were part of the first units of the Indian Army to take part in the Second World War. Over the course of the grand war, the Indian Army, which started off with just under 2,00,000 men, grew to more than 2.5 million personnel, becoming the largest volunteer force in history.

The Indian Army’s contributions during the latter part of the World War II are well documented. However, the story of four transport companies of Indian Army that sailed from Mumbai and had to be rescued from the beaches of France has mostly skipped the history books.

 

Smorgasbord Short Stories – The Flying Officer by Sally Cronin

Status


The first time Patrick Walsh saw her, was as he wended his way slowly down the hill between the slow moving trucks on his motorbike. The road was lined with women and old men who were handing out hastily cut sandwiches and mugs of tea to the men in the trucks, whose outstretched hands gratefully received these simple acts of kindness. It was clear from the their faces that they found the peaceful summer skies overhead, and clamour of women’s voices, a much needed reminder of home and safety.

He knew where they had come from, as for the last six days he had been flying over them as they had scrambled into small boats to be ferried out to the larger naval vessels waiting to take them to safety. He and his squadron were a part of the massive air defence operaton. Thousands of soldiers were pouring off the beaches having gathered over the last few days from the surrounding countryside; exposed and being attacked by superior German forces. On the last run today his spitfire had received a direct hit to the cockpit from a persistent Messerschmitt Me 109; luckily missing his head by inches apart from a cut over his eye, earning him a few hours respite. His plane would be ready to fly first thing in the morning. The ground crews at all fighter squadrons were working around the clock to get pilots back in the air until the evacuation from the French coast was complete.

As he carefully maneuvered between the trucks he responded to the shouts from the men above him with a small wave. He knew that their good natured jibes were aimed at his uniform and the wings that it displayed, and that their friendly ribbing was their way of showing gratitude. He decided that it would be easier to wait until the convoy had passed to continue into the village square. He dismounted, standing by the hedge to watch the villagers as they persisted in their need to comfort these dispirited men with tea and offerings of food.

She stood out from the crowd of women. Tall with long red hair tied back with an emerald green ribbon, she was dressed in overalls and wore heavy boots. She had a natural elegance as she darted between an older woman, holding a tea tray piled with jam sandwiches, and the trucks. Despite the men’s exhaustion, eager hands grasped the food, winking and flirting with the prettiest thing they had seen for a long while.

Patrick leaned back against the saddle of his bike and let himself enjoy this brief moment of humanity that was so rare today. He had been flying since the first weeks of the war and his squadron had suffered huge losses; particularly in the last few weeks as they had provided air cover for the retreating British forces. They had been warned that far worse was to come as the enemy amassed both fighters and bombers for an all-out offensive on the country. Having already lost many friends, Patrick knew that it was only a matter of time before he became a statistic.

Some of his fellow pilots and aircrew decided that they would live as hard as they fought. There were plenty of pretty girls around the station that were delighted to dance the night away and bring some laughter and sometimes love into the young men’s lives. He had seen the results of these whirlwind romances at the Saturday night dance in the village hall. As the airmen arrived in an ever changing group of young men, expectant faces would be watching the door and it was not unusual to see a girl being led away in tears by her friends.

Patrick loved to dance but gently refused the invitations to take to the floor and over the last few months he had become regarded as something of a misery. His friends gave up on their attempts to persuade him that he should live for the moment, and with a wry smile he listened to the chat up lines that were guaranteed to pull the heartstrings of a pretty girl.

But now as he watched the red head flying back and forth and smiling up at the men in the trucks, he felt an overwhelming urge to hold her in his arms and waltz around a dance floor. He shook his head and reminded himself that it would only lead to heartbreak for her, and he couldn’t bear the thought of those beautiful green eyes filling with tears.

An hour later the last truck in the convoy disappeared through the village square and out of sight. There would be more coming through from the coast, and Patrick watched as the crowd of villagers gathered up their cups and trays and disappeared back into their homes. They would prepare more from their meagre rations for the next wave of returning soldiers and be waiting for them by the roadside. He remained by the hedge until the red headed girl had linked arms with her mother and entered her house before riding down to the square.

‘Patrick, are you awake my friend?’ The voice of his Polish friend Jakub intruded into his daydream about dancing with his stunning red head.

‘Just about, do you want to go to the Black Swan for a beer? He sat up and rested his head in his hands and tried to bring his mind back to reality.

He looked around the Nissen hut that was their home, taking in the four empty cots that waited for the new arrivals. They would be mostly teenagers with only a few hours flying solo, and none of them in combat. He was only twenty-four, but he felt like an old man compared to the fresh faced and eager boys that would come through that door tomorrow.

It was now August and the skies were filled with formations of enemy bombers most nights. His plane was grounded again having the undercarriage repaired after a problem on his last landing. His mechanic said he had the ‘luck of the Irish’. Patrick was well aware that he was now one of only a handful of pilots remaining from the original group a year ago; he knew that his luck was bound to run out sooner or later. There was just one thing that he needed tonight, and that was the sight of Red, and she would be helping out her dad behind the bar at the Black Swan.

Two hours later he and Jakub sat quietly at a corner table with their glasses of beer. One beer was the limit as both of them would be back in the skies tomorrow; a cockpit was no place for lack of concentration. Jakub was married and expecting his first child and was happy to sit quietly in the warm and welcoming atmosphere thinking about his next leave in a week’s time. Patrick however spent his time watching Red as she served customers and laughed with the regulars. That laugh was in his head and was added to all the other pieces of her that he carried with him as he flew missions. The thought of those green eyes helped dispel the voice of the other constant companion that was by his side each time he buckled himself into the cockpit. Her presence in his heart and mind had helped him control his fear; bringing the realisation that he was in love for the first time in his life.

Over the weeks since that first day on the hill, there had been moments in the pub, when he would catch her eye and they would both smile then look away. By sitting at the bar when he popped in alone, he had gathered more information about her. She wasn’t called Red of course, but Georgina and Georgie to her friends. She didn’t seem to have a boyfriend amongst the regulars who frequented the pub, and one day he overheard that she had been engaged to a soldier who had been killed within weeks of the war starting.

He would watch as she gently refused all attempts by eager young warriors to take her on a date, realising that her heart had already been broken. This reinforced his resolve not to give in to the growing need to tell Georgie of his feelings; convinced it would only bring her further sorrow.

Through the rest of the summer months missions intensified, with both daylight and night bombing raids on the docks and major cities; almost bringing the country to its knees. In the October the tide began to turn, but not without the loss of thousands of fighter pilots and bomber air crews. It was then that Patrick’s luck ran out as he limped home with a badly damaged plane and shrapnel injuries in his chest and arm.

Patrick fought to stay conscious as the plane shuddered and bucked as he flew using his one good hand. Blood from a head wound almost blinded him, but as he saw the runway rushing up to meet him, he managed to bring the nose around and head for the grass to the side. The last thing that he thought about as the world went black was Georgie’s face and laugh.

A month later Patrick got one of the pilots to drop him off at the Black Swan and he walked into the early evening quiet of the bar. He had just received his new orders on his return from the hospital. From Monday he would be moving into an intelligence role where his experience in combat could be put to use. He was making a good recovery, but the extensive injuries to his arm meant the end of his flying career; now he would be ensuring that he kept others safe in the skies. In one way he felt that he was abandoning those that he regarded as family in their close knit squadron, but he also knew that it offered him the opportunity to fulfil a dream that was equally important.

Georgie was polishing glasses and looked up to greet the new customer with her usual smile but instead she took a deep breath. As he moved closer Patrick could see that there were tears in her glorious green eyes. Georgie stepped out from behind the bar and walked towards him, glancing at his arm in its sling and the scar that was etched into his forehead. She stood in front of him and neither spoke for a moment until he reached out his good arm to take her hand.

‘Is there any chance that you might let me take you to the dance tomorrow night?’

She smiled through her tears. ‘How are you going to be able to dance with only one free arm?’

He pulled her into him and looked down at the lips that he had imagined kissing so many times in the last few months.

‘Don’t worry Red… I’ll manage just fine.’

 

©sallycronin 2017

Thank you for dropping in and I hope you enjoyed the story. Thanks Sally