DVD: Dunkirk (2004)
With the current global success of 2017’s Dunkirk, Arrow Films have re-released the 2004 BBC documentary. Does it complement or distract from Christopher Nolan’s modern masterpiece? 60 Minutes With let Steve Woolley take a look.
Some historical events lose their impact over the years, constant retelling of the story reduces the effect on the audience and the events at Dunkirk was assimilated into the common psyche as an example of ‘British Pluck’ in the face of adversity. With the flotilla of small craft battling the combined German forces to rescue stranded troops from the French beaches. Yet Nolan’s film and this BBC documentary both show that the true story is far more shocking.
Set in 3 Parts; Retreat, Evacuation and Deliverance, the drama-documentary with day-by-day accounts and Timothy Dalton’s narration explains the monumental effort in May 1940 to rescue the BEF and French forces from annihilation. Using documentary footage it shows an army in retreat, suffering constant strafing, hunger and fatigue on the beaches as they awaited embarkation, death or surrender. It also details the political wrangling by cabinet ministers including Simon Russell Beale as an excellent Winston Churchill facing down calls for capitulation with the enemy.
The effects budget appears to be that of the average episode of Holby City and is almost laughable with guns that don’t appear to actually fire but this never detracts from the storytelling. The strength of the BBC series is that it uses human accounts by people who were there and the viewer is hooked in to learn their particular fates. Director Alex Holmes choice of actors to portray a human element to the events is well handled with actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch as hard bastard Lt Jimmy Langley and Phil Cornwell leading a group of lairy Kent fishermen in a cockle boat.
One wonders if Mr Nolan used this series as a resource for his film as its storytelling, like his movie, showed that the near miracle of returning over a third of a million troops and the bravery of those who helped achieve it is a story worth telling again.
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