Saturday, August 19, 2017

Obviously you want to know what I thought of "Dunkirk".

I hardly ever go to the cinema but when my wife went away for a week I couldn't resist seeing "Dunkirk". Particularly since it was a lunchtime screening on the IMAX at Leicester Square. That's my favourite way to see films. I like theatres packed but cinemas empty. In fact there were just three of us in the place when the usher came out with a microphone and welcomed us, which was unexpected. He called us "you guys", which was rich since all three of us were old enough to be his father.

And IMAX, well. I had asked for a seat in the middle of the place but had to move back two rows when the trailers started because the image was still too big.

One of the advantages of being completely out of touch with films is that the only actors I could name  in "Dunkirk" were Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh.

As for the film, I was put in mind of the apocryphal story of the brave but effete chap from Vogue who when asked what he recalled of his experience of D-Day clapped his hand to his forehead and said "Oh, the noise! The people!"

I was aware that people were trying to hang on to their lives in "Dunkirk" but, as is traditional in today's films, I couldn't make out the dialogue that explained how they planned to do it for the prodigious bangs on the soundtrack. I wanted to know a bit more about their lives away from the beach in order to root for them. I suppose I basically find the drama of history more interesting than the spectacle of battle and I would have liked more of the former and a bit less of the latter.

Which explains, of course, why I have no business making feature films in 2017. I realised this when I emerged blinking in to the daylight afterwards, feeling impressed by the craft of the film makers but curiously unmoved by their story-telling skills. I thought back to all the upcoming releases I'd seen trailed before the film had started. I'm sure "Dunkirk" is a lot better than most of them but in terms of what it's seeking to provide it's of a piece with them. The modern film is a spectacle. It's a thrill ride. It seems there's no higher praise.

There's no point me complaining that I couldn't follow the story for the bangs. The bangs are the point.


  1. Justin Lewis-Anthony11:00 am

    A couple of things: the "brave but effete" chap you're thinking of is Ernest Thesiger who once, reputedly, said that about his experiences on the Western Front in WW1. Others say that it was Lord Sefton, who fought in the Guards, at...yes... Dunkirk (you pays your money...)

    The other thing to say is that I think we mistake Nolan's intention if we think he set out to make a "war film", in the traditional sense of "this is what happened and this is why you should be concerned about what happened." I think Dunkirk is another version of his perennial fascination with the Prisoners' Dilemma (see Memento, and the Dark Knight). This prisoners' dilemma just happened in a boat, in khaki, to the sound of Merlin engines.

  2. You do speak/write such good sense A reliable film buff friend of mine said much the same that t was not up to much but that mark rylance was good. I did think as do we have to keep screening the second world war? Was it not bad enough first time round? See Tom Lehrers pithy comments on this in 'so long mom'!

  3. Thanks David,as ever sound straightforward comments. Once again style over substance I fear. My film buff friend whose opinion I respect said it was disappointing although Mark Rylance was good. To add to your comment do we need another film to add to the film's on the second world war? Was it not bad enough the first time? Do all countries celebrate wars over 70 years ago with endless new films? Do the Germans do this? Or the French or other involved countries.

  4. Bit of a let down after all the rave reviews. I went back and watched the 1959 version and found it provided background story and characters you could believe in. Dickie Attenborough changes from a smug, domesticated factory manager to a man at war. Best line in the film is said by the RAF type who gives the 'brown jobs' a lift: "What a to-do"

  5. Can't really understand your complaints. There was not much dialogue to listen to and it was not there to advance the story much anyway. The bangs were the thing and quite magnificent in Imax (I have now seen it twice once in a normal multiplex). It was not about the battle for Dunkirk or the politics behind it but about survival. The interlocking story lines were amazingly well constructed and I found it very emotional at the end. But you are right about Rylance - he was fabulous.

  6. Agreed, the 1959 version (less than 20 years after the real deal) is far superior.

  7. "I like theatres packed but cinemas empty" . That's terrific David. Thanks.