The World of Daman Beatty

DUNKIRK Is Nolan’s film good to be true?


Christopher Nolan has reinvented how we view a war movie with his recently released WWII epic DUNKIRK, which is getting rave reviews from critics and the public alike. The story’s focus is on the evacuation of British troops from the French town of Dunkirk as the German army has pushed allied forces to the coastal town and pinned them there on the beach. It is a tense and heroic setting for what happens.

But, for those generations who did not live through the time period or may not have a good grasp of history, many are left to wonder: How truthful and factual is Nolan’s film?

Norman Franks, a leading WWII and British aviation historian and author explains the facts versus the fictions in this well received and well-crafted movie. His most recent book is titled AIR BATTLE FOR DUNKIRK.

Franks explains, “If you are looking for entertainment, this movie is excellent. It will prove an exciting and noisy two hours, and it keeps the audiences’ full attention. However anyone with a modicum of knowledge regarding of the events that took place at Dunkirk would find much to question.”

Some points to note on the differences and accuracies:

  • The movie does not fully cover in detail those nine days in 1940 (26 May-3 June).
  • There were many more small civilian boats but they never arrived all at once and most did not come to shore but stayed off the beach and had troops ferried out to them.
  • The small private boat story was very good, although just why Nolan should depict a rescued soldier (played by Cillian Murphy) – clearly shocked – be responsible for the death of a young lad in the boat’s crew is unpleasant. If he is to die as a young heroic civilian why couldn’t the lad be killed by a bullet from a German aeroplane?
  • The actual air combat actions, though sparse, are very good. At least the fighter pilots fired in short bursts. Spitfire pilots only had about sixteen seconds of fire power so needed to conserve their ammunition in combat. It does show, in fact, how difficult it was to shoot down an opponent!
  • Only one Heinkel 111 bomber in the movie when there would have been more.
  • The Stuka dive-bomber attacks made excellent appearances, complete with their nerve-shattering sirens screaming when they dived. They really did have these sirens blaring as they attacked.
  • The Spitfires crash-landing in the sea did not float long, yet they did in this movie.
  • That final glide by the ‘out of fuel’ Spitfire flown by Tom Hardy’s character – well, he could have glided back to England it took so long – and I think he shot down a German bomber while so handicapped. That is not really feasible.

Norman Franks is an English military writer who specializes in aviation topics. He focuses on the pilots and squadrons of World Wars I and II. He is also a consultant for the Channel 4 television series Dogfight. Franks is also one of the founding members of the Cross and Cockade society for World War I aviation historians, which was formed in and a member of Over the Front, the league of World War I aviation historians.

His books include Air Battle for Dunkirk, The Red Baron, Sky Tiger: The Story of Sailor Malan, Bloody April, Black September, Dark Sky, Deep Water, and many, many more.