Dunkirk Trailer: The Real Stories Behind Nolan’s Upcoming War Epic

The first Dunkirk trailer is here, and proves eerily effective in its less-is-more approach. By using only six shots, it manages to convey a sense of impending gloom without recursing to usual action clichés of loud explosions and relentless machine-gun fire. Accompanied as always by the music of Hans Zimmer, and the sound of a ticking clock (recalling Inception), the trailer shows that, for these soldiers, time is running out.

Being based on the true story of the Dunkirk Evacuation, we know now that a large majority of the soldiers (350,000) were saved by a combination of individual and navy ships, yet at the time there was a sense that this battle could have signalled the end of the English effort to defeat the Nazis. Let’s have a look at the real oral stories behind the battle, and how they might relate to Christopher Nolan’s new film, .

The Black Smoke

Warner Bros.

The second shot of the trailer is a beautiful wide shot which employs deep focus to take in both the black smoke in the background and the grey sand in the foreground. This black smoke was deliberately made by the soldiers and parachute flares, both to attract those evacuating and to protect the evacuees. , recalls,

“The beach, black with men, illumined by the fires, seemed a perfect target, but no doubt the thick clouds of smoke were a useful screen.”

The Deadly Stukas

Warner Bros.

The final shot of the trailer shows hundreds of soldiers on a pier, cowering as they see an incoming plane. These are the Stukas, siren-equipped German dive bombers which were utilized heavily during this battle and the blitzkrieg. Army officer James Hill, , possibly describing what happens next in that vital scene:

“I remember seeing a paddle steamer, and I watched a Stuka dive bombing it. And to me the thing was probably 2,000 yards out, it was … quite a long way out, and you could see from the Stuka, you could see the bomb, you see … to me, 2,000 yards away, it looked exactly as if this bomb had gone down the spout, the funnel of the paddle steamer … the whole thing disintegrated. In fact, it had gone down the funnel of the paddle steamer. The whole thing disintegrated, and I think they lost 2,000 chaps.”

Waiting On The Beach

Warner Bros.

Again showcasing Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s talent for deep perspective, by framing the dead soldiers against those waiting for rescue, this shot poses the ominous question of whether or not they will be saved in time. :

“We ran to Dunkirk’s harbour. And down there, we could not board. There were scores of people on the beach who were waiting. I didn’t imagine there would be so many”

Swimming To The Boats

Warner Bros.

Whilst with this scene it isn’t entirely clear what is going on, this testimony from it:

“Anyway, as I say, that was my feeling that, to get down and find some way of getting across. ‘Cause you certainly couldn’t have swam it. They were too far out for that. For me anyway. Some of them did. They just stripped off and got away and good luck to them.”

Will Tom Hardy’s character here make an epic swim towards the boat, or he is merely trying to refresh himself after a hard fight?

Leaving Your Guns Behind

Warner Bros.

As the soldiers evacuated, many left their guns behind. In a retreating position there wasn’t much use to carry heavy equipment that could potentially kill you, as one chilling account :

“Anyway, this chappie stepped round in front of me, went to step, and he fell in the water, and I shouted to him, and I saw him going down, like this … and all the bubbles coming up … and he’s still got a tin hat and … a rifle around him, and all this equipment, and he just went down … down.”

The hope for Nolan’s movie, is that by basing it in historical fact, he can reach the and that tracking shot from Atonement:

, Dunkirk needs to be pretty special in order to stand out, yet with Nolan behind the camera and with the right level of historical accuracy, this could be the perfect tribute to those brave soldiers lost during the most ‘victorious retreat’ of recent history.

What do you think? Will this be as good as Saving Private Ryan?

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