Dunkirk (2017)

Starring: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, James D'Arcy, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

The queue from hell... Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk

So my first thought about Christopher Nolan's critically acclaimed World War Two epic Dunkirk is that everyone on the beaches has really great cheekbones. My second is just what a ghastly nightmare the Dunkirk situation is, a military clusterf*ck of grotesque, Kafkaesque proportions; 400,000 men standing in the worst queue in the world, the queue that maybe, just maybe, will float them tipsily away from death – if they aren't gunned down or blown to pieces first. And my third thought is: oh boy, Tom Hardy in a Spitfire...

Tom Hardy in a Spitfire...

But after that I kinda stopped thinking – or indeed breathing really – just bit my fingers, gasped and cried.

Nolan doesn't waste time building up characters with backstories we can care about to involve us in the action. Instead he flings us into the nightmare head first, with no time at all to catch our breath, surrounding us with a bewildering barrage of noise and confusion.

The film's protagonists are almost cyphers – the exhausted squaddie (Fionn Whitehead), the heroic RAF pilot (Hardy in his most dashing role yet – even if, typically, we barely see his face), the noble Navy commander (Kenneth Branagh), the courageous old sailor (Mark Rylance), the desperate, shellshocked deserter (Cillian Murphy), the young lad eager to play his part (Barry Keoghan). Yet, played by some of the UK and Ireland's finest talent (oh, and Harry Styles, but even he acquits himself well) each is clearly delineated and utterly credible, and boy do we care. Between them, they play out three separate stories that, while spooling out in different time frames that only adds to the sense of disorientation (what did you expect? I don't think Nolan does strictly linear narrative) converge triumphantly at the film's conclusion in a glorious moment of miracle then a blaze of sense-assaulting action.

James D'Arcy and Kenneth Branagh in Dunkirk

Shot in panoramic 70mm, Dunkirk is a true epic, treading boldly yet confidently in the footsteps of mighty wartime masterpieces like Waterloo, Apocalypse Now and Das Boot. Enthralling, brilliantly paced, dazzling, visceral, and oh so hard on the heartstrings (every time Mark Rylance spoke I started welling up), this is what cinema is all about. Yes, it's probably the most stressful film I've ever seen, and yes, as the strains of Elgar's 'Nimrod' soar above the guttering purr of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, you do feel as if your emotions can't really take much more manipulation, but that's all part and parcel of this captivating, heart-stoppingly moving, cinematic experience.

Five big, gold, Churchill-approved stars for Christopher Nolan and the cast and crew of Dunkirk and a cup of tea and a lie down for me...

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