France Is Not Happy With Nolan's Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan's film prompts a new look at epic WWII evacuation
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2017 8:19 AM CDT

(Newser) – The hot movie of the moment is Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, which retells the story of the evacuation of allied troops from the French city of that name during World War II. But this was an epic evacuation, with more than 333,000 mostly British and French soldiers rescued from the beachhead. In fact, had the Germans opted to attack instead of holding back, such a decisive win in 1940 might have changed the outcome of the war, writes James Gibney at Bloomberg. (The headline says Germany "blew it.") So why didn't they? All these years later, the answer remains unclear, says historian Robert Citino. He recounts the confusion among Hitler and his top Panzer commanders and says one thing is clear: The Germans realized their mistake almost immediately, even as the evacuation was taking place. Read the full Q&A here. Related stories:

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  • Fact vs. fiction: The movie ranks high in terms of accuracy, and Slate takes a look at specific examples. Kenneth Branagh's character appears to be based on a real-life British captain, and a memorable scene about a soldier's walk into the ocean is based on witness accounts.
  • What you don't see: The film doesn't deal with the fighting taking place beyond the beach, the impact on civilians, and, generally, the perspective of the French, German, and Belgian soldiers involved, per a post at Gizmodo.
  • First-hand account: Historians can weigh in all they want, but a 97-year-old veteran who was actually there has this to say: “I never thought I would see that again. It was just like I was there again." Ken Sturdy served in the British Royal Navy and now lives in Canada. See video of him at Global News.
  • Controversy in France: Some historians and critics in France say the film gives short shrift to French bravery that made the evacuation (Operation Dynamo) possible. Specifically, how 30,000 French troops held off the Germans at Lille to protect the mission. The London Times has details.
  • Counter-view: A piece at France24 makes the case that Nolan's critics in France are misreading the film. Yes, it gives French soldiers a disproportionately small role, but it's not a documentary—and it does not "disregard their valor."
  • Finally: David Fear at Rolling Stone writes that Nolan has always been an adept filmmaker—look at his Batman flicks—but this is the movie his doubters (Fear included) have been waiting for. "He's finally established himself as an artist."
(Read more World War II stories.)

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