From filmmaker Christopher Nolan (“Interstellar,” “Inception,” “The Dark Knight” Trilogy) comes the epic action thriller “Dunkirk.” “Dunkirk” opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea, they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in. The story unfolds on land, sea and air. RAF Spitfires engage the enemy in the skies above the Channel, trying to protect the defenseless men below. Meanwhile, hundreds of small boats manned by both military and civilians are mounting a desperate rescue effort, risking their lives in a race against time to save even a fraction of their army.
Christopher Nolan has taken audiences from the streets of Gotham City, to the infinite world of dreams, to the farthest reaches of space. Now, for the first time, the innovative director/writer/producer has turned his camera to a real-life event, one that has resonated with him throughout his life: the miracle of Dunkirk.
“Dunkirk” is based on the evacuation that—although it took place in the early months of World War II—had a direct impact on the outcome of the war. Rather than make a battlefield drama, however, Nolan’s objective was to turn this historical moment into immediate, immersive cinema: a propulsive, ticking-clock, epic action thriller in which the stakes couldn’t be higher.
He affirms, “What happened at Dunkirk is one of the greatest stories in human history, the ultimate life-or-death race against time. It was an extraordinarily suspenseful situation; that’s the reality. Our aim with this movie was to throw the audience into that with an absolute respect for history, but also with a degree of intensity and, of course, a sense of entertainment, too.”
The remarkable true story that inspired the fictional film is one that has fascinated Nolan for many years “and one I’ve been wanting to tell for quite some time,” he says. “Like most British people, I was raised on the mythical story of the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the victory that was snatched from the jaws of defeat. It’s a massive part of our culture. It’s in our bones.”
The story began in late May 1940, when the British Expeditionary Force, along with French, Belgian and Canadian troops were forced back to the beaches of Dunkirk. Though home was just 26 miles away, there was no easy way to reach it. The shallow-drafted beach, with its 21-foot tide, prohibited the large British naval ships from rescuing the men. But there was hope: a call had gone out for small boats to aid the effort and a flotilla of non-military “little ships” sailed out from the southern coast of England to bring the men home, codenamed Operation Dynamo.
Researching the script, Nolan read several books and firsthand accounts. He also met with some surviving veterans of Operation Dynamo. “It was a great honor to hear about their experiences and discover what Dunkirk meant to them,” he says.
“Nevertheless,” producer Emma Thomas notes, “Chris felt strongly that he didn’t want to put words in the mouths of these real-life heroes, or have to change their stories for reasons of time or dramatic effect, and decided that the best way to approach the story was to use fictional characters inspired by those elements he discovered in doing his research.”
The filmmakers were honored to have the opportunity to film a portion of “Dunkirk” on the actual beach and at the same time of year that the miraculous evacuation happened. Filming also took place in Holland, the UK and Los Angeles. “Dunkirk” features a multigenerational ensemble cast, including Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy and Barry Keoghan, with Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy.
Nolan directed “Dunkirk” from his own screenplay, utilizing a mixture of IMAX® and 65mm film to bring the story to the screen. The film was produced by Emma Thomas and Nolan, with Jake Myers serving as executive producer.
“Dunkirk” is a presentation of Warner Bros. Pictures and a Syncopy Production. Opening in conventional theatres and IMAX on July 21, 2017, the film will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.
Fionn Whitehead picture courtesy of Melinda Sue Gordon
“Dunkirk” movie scene courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures