Some Observations About The Movie Dunkirk

I thought the movie Dunkirk was well done.

  • Each facet of the battle seemed to be well represented by the characters; the soldiers, airmen, sailors, and British civilians.
  • The actors, most not particularly well known, did a great job.
  • For a recent war or action movie, I appreciated that there was far less gore than usual.

Some facts added could have made it better:

  • The background of the British call to prayer which likely led to the civilian involvement. Too many viewers aren’t familiar with the historical facts and they weren’t emphasized in the movie.

The British were aware of the probable disaster that was forming at Dunkirk. In a moving broadcast to the British people, King George VI asked his people to commit their cause to God and that a National Day of Prayer be called on Sunday, May 26, 1940.  The members of the Cabinet joined the King at Westminster Abbey, while millions joined in prayer throughout the Empire. Photographs outside Westminster Abbey on the National Day of Prayer showed throngs of people who could not get into the Abbey.

Many people believe the heartfelt prayers of so many British subjects to God played a big part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. God’s provision, power, and presence certainly seemed evident in the battle and evacuation. It was widely known as the Miracle at Dunkirk. Some of the factors that led to its success:

    • Against the advice of his generals, Hitler stopped the advance of his armored columns ten miles away, at a point when they could have destroyed the British Army. Possibly Hitler thought the Germans had enough air superiority to prevent a large-scale evacuation by sea that would be required.
    • German Luftwaffe squadrons were grounded due to a fierce storm over Flanders on May 28th, 1940. Darkness and the cover of the storm allowed the British Army to move toward the coast without being detected by German aircraft.
    • When several hundred men were systematically being machine-gunned and bombed by many enemy aircraft, many of the soldiers were amazed that more men weren’t killed.
    • While the violent storm provided cover, the English Channel was unusually calm in the days that followed which allowed nearly 340,000 British and Allied soldiers to be rescued by a hastily assembled of over 800 boats made up of 40 Royal Navy ships and an armada of civilian boats and merchant ships.
  • More focus on the vast numbers (hundreds of boats and ships) of civilians and commercial boatmen who risked all to aid in the rescue of their army. (Some were commandeered by naval crews when owners were not found. The movie made it appear that only a few dozen made the crossing.

“Operation Dynamo”

By Strait_of_Dover_map.png: User:NormanEinsteinderivative work: Diannaa – This file was derived fromStrait of Dover map.png:Information on shipping routes from Thompson, Julian (2011) [2008]. Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory. New York: Arcade. ISBN 978-1-61145-314-0. Map, page 223., CC BY-SA 3.0,
There were so many ships and boats involved in the evacuation across those 18 nautical miles that the fighter ace, Douglas Bader who helped to cover the operation, described the scene:

“The sea from Dunkirk to Dover during these days of the evacuation looked like any coastal road in England on a bank holiday. It was solid with shipping. One felt one could walk across without getting one’s feet wet, or that’s what it looked like from the air. There were naval escort vessels, sailing dinghies, rowing boats, paddle-steamers, indeed every floating device known in this country. They were all taking British soldiers from Dunkirk back home. You could identify Dunkirk from the Thames estuary by the huge pall of black smoke rising straight up into a windless sky from the oil tanks which were ablaze just inside the harbour.”

  • Churchill’s June 4, 1940 speech seemed almost an afterthought in the movie.

“. . . We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

  • The fact that the British people acknowledged God’s role in the evacuation.

The British people recognized the many signs of God’s deliverance from the German Army and Luftwaffe at Dunkirk. On Sunday, June 9, 1940, a Day of National Thanksgiving was celebrated. In an article in The Daily Telegraph, C. B. Mortlock stated: “The prayers of the nation were answered’, and that ‘the God of hosts himself had supported the valiant men of the British Expeditionary Force.”             

11 Replies to “Some Observations About The Movie Dunkirk”

  1. Wonderful commentary on what I also agree was a very good movie, but did lack some of what you shared. Thank you Janet! I too was pleased that this movie told about an important part of history (if somewhat incomplete) without the usual gore. It was intense edge of your seat action without that. It was a movie worth seeing, but do as I did…..check out your history books for the complete picture.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Allison.
      It was very intense.
      It would not have taken much time, effort, or expense to add a narrative in the very beginning about the call to prayer.

  2. I love this, Janet! Your blog/review should be a “supplement” to all moviegoers! I, too, was relieved by the lack of gore that is so common in war stories. I thought the movie was so well done, yet (as you point out) lacked much of the inspirational message that would have added so much. From the movie maker’s perspective, they likely had constrictions of time and money that left the viewer wishing for more details. But I also think that viewers sometimes expect information to be spoonfed, rather than pulling out a Google search to do some serious study. Bravo for your reviewer perspective!

    1. Thank you, Elaine. So often, in the very beginning of a movie, a narrative will appear that provides some background. This doesn’t take more than a minute or two away from the movie, and the expense would be negligible. It aids people who aren’t familiar with the historical facts to better understand what was happening. It also helps the viewer to see the remarkable events from a spiritual perspective which makes the movie even more impactful.

  3. Thanks, Janet, for such a thorough supplement of information. Leave it to the movie moguls to downplay the God aspect. I have some strong Christian (distant) relatives in England, with whom I’d like to share this, of course giving you full due credit.

    I have not seen the movie yet, but plan to. I had seen a snippet claiming there was more gore than Private Ryan, and was waiting to hear more before talking my wife into going.

    Thanks again.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Douglas. By all means, share the post. As far as your wife enjoying it, I’m someone who has their eyes covered half the time at The Patriot or Braveheart and I don’t go to any action movies. This movie was intense but not as difficult to watch as most war movies of recent vintage.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Janet! I read author Tricia Goyer’s comment on Facebook about her same disappointment that this info had been left out. We were visiting my 85 year old cousin in Michigan and she remembered about the prayers and miracles. She said people in her church went up nightly to pray. Too bad Hollywood omitted this.

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