I am not normally drawn to such films as the latest Dunkirk release, but on my recent viewing it proved rather better than I expected.
Real ships were mostly used rather than clever digital effects. Then it was impossible to give due justice to the immense scale of the real scene, the numbers of troops involved, the myriad of ships and boats present of all sizes, the epic violence and the serial tragedies. In spite of this, many people will find the film illuminating and moving as newer generations are largely unaware of this tragic and potentially cataclysmic event at the beginning of WW2.
In the film, I was first non-plussed by the Hospital Ship that played a major role in the opening scenes. It was a real ship, but it dawned on me after some time it was the preserved Norwegian ex coastal MV Rogaland I had seen at Stavanger on several occasions, but only wearing her black and red Stavangerske livery. She suited her Red Cross colours very well and her apparent sinking (using land based and studio sets) emphasised how humanitarian values were largely absent for the duration of the evacuation.
Several of the real “Dunkirk Little Ships” played a part in the film. In reality, the number of vessels involved, including RN and civilian craft, was 933. Of which more than 200 ships and boats were lost with many tragedies. It is estimated that around 3,500 British were killed at sea or on the beaches and more than 1,000 Dunkirk citizens were killed in air raids and by shelling.
But over the eight days of what was called Operation Dynamo, a total of 338,226 Allied soldiers were successfully brought back across the English Channel including 140,000 French, Polish and Belgian troops. Around 200,000 men were picked up from the Dunkirk Mole – which featured in the film – with the rest from the beaches. The paddle steamer Medway Queen (now being rebuilt and preserved) made a total of seven round trips to Dunkirk and managed to rescue 7,000 men while General Steam Navigations’ Royal Daffodil is said to have saved more.
So the film? A worthwhile attempt at an epic story and a showcase for a number of interesting preserved vessels.