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Dunkirk: not the whole story?

John Woods finds big screen epic Dunkirk a bit of a mixed bag ...

Dunkirk (12a)
Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh
Running time: 106 minutes
Directed by Christopher Nolan

The I newspaper said: “If you only see one thing today, let it be this”.  By contrast, The Times Saturday Review gave it two stars and a two-word review: “Disappointing epic”.

My wife and I were also in two minds about this film.  Half an hour in and we were wondering what all the fuss was about. The film depends on a slow brooding tension that builds throughout the film.  The use of faint strains of Elgar Enigma Variations provided a ripple of hope against the dark waves.  The dialogue is sparse and stilted; it is ironic that Harry Styles, the One Direction singer, making his acting debut, has the most lines.

The big story of Dunkirk is missing, the scale of the evacuation only briefly mentioned. Churchill does not feature apart from the word of one of his speeches being read aloud from a newspaper.

Here is a film that takes little stories and weaves them into an account of the horrors of way, the desperation of men trying to get out of a war zone, and many brave civilians, who made the rescue possible. The fragmented nature of the action plays well to a millennial audience. It is almost a war movie by Instagram.

The brief final scene, depicting a lone RAF pilot standing defiantly by his burning Spitfire as he is surrounded by German soldiers, paints a masterpiece of tension with a few brush strokes. However, I wonder whether the heart of what Dunkirk meant was communicated.

One glaring omission was the failure to acknowledge the part that a National Day of Prayer, followed by a National Day of Thanksgiving, played in the unfolding events on those beaches.

What might Christians learn from this film? Maybe some insights into …

What does it take to be a real man?
What does it mean to be committed to finish a task, even if this is of great cost to yourself?
What does it take to be like those who welcomed the men from Dunkirk, not as failures but as heroes? 
How could we foster that generosity of spirit at a time where politics is so polarized and blame-shifting has become a national sport?

John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle in West Sussex





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