Preview: Dunkirk

Dunkirk is an upcoming war epic directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Harry Styles, making his feature film acting debut – and what a way to kick things off. Nolan’s next film being a war epic should be enough to get you excited all on its own, but the fact that the narrative will focus on the infamous Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 – ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’ to many – as well as featuring such a promising and generally proven cast means that Dunkirk will be one more than worth seeing in the cinema.

Firstly, let’s start off with the obvious. That main cast is nothing short of spectacular – a brilliant roll call of talent new and old (and not just in terms of age), combining the established dramatic talents of the ‘theatre and selected films’ world of Branagh and Rylance with the soon-to-be icons of contemporary cinema in Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy. The latter two of course have not only featured in Nolan’s works extensively before, but together too – more than once. Mark Rylance is best known globally for his two recent appearances in Spielberg’s latest, 2015’s Bridge of Spies and this year’s Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG, in which both of his performances were practically flawless, winning him the Oscar for the former. No one needs to sell the merits of Branagh, Hardy or Murphy either, the latter two having gone from strength to strength throughout the 2000s, deservedly exploding into popularity in the early 2010s.

Nolan is no stranger to casting actors that you might not have immediately thought of as being perfect choices…

There is, of course, one other cast member we’ve yet to mention, the One Direction front-man Harry Styles. Many people were aghast to hear the news of his casting, and took to social media to express their upset, maintaining a suitable level of dignity and well-reasoned debate whilst politely disagreeing with this decision. Just kidding. In fact it led to an outpouring of blind rage, and of course a set of delightful comments including the following; “I hope after it’s released Harry kills himself like Heath Ledger did”. Disgusting and idiotic in equal measure, it’s more than fair to say that even if you disagree with this decision (a decision I’m willing to bet will not affect your life in any significant way), there is no reason for you to not behave like a rational, well-adjusted human being whilst expressing this view, instead of spewing out such bile and hatred that frankly doesn’t benefit anyone. Personally, I am not bothered at all by the decision. It’s funny that a lot of the people who were opposed to it are also big fans of Nolan, and think that this will ruin one of his films, forgetting of course that Nolan is no stranger to casting actors that you might not have immediately thought of as being perfect choices – as mentioned above, in fact, Heath Ledger is by far the most obvious example of this.

Not only is this opinion prejudging Styles’ performance and the overall quality of the film, but it’s insulting to Christopher Nolan’s integrity as a filmmaker. Do you really think that Harry Styles was cast out of the blue? Of course not – he will have had to show his talent and promise like every other actor cast – arguably more so than some of the others, too. Say what you want about Nolan’s films themselves, but try and think of a weak performance in any of them. Christopher Nolan has a track record of getting the best out of his actors, and so I have faith that Styles’ performance too will be more than passable. In any case, we shouldn’t prejudge – the film isn’t even released until next year.


Fans of Nolan will no doubt also be expecting the same high standard of cinematography present in all of his previous works, most of which were helmed by renowned cinematographer Wally Pfister. Instead Dunkirk sees Nolan’s latest cinematographer back, Hoyte van Hoytema, who he collaborated with for 2014’s Interstellar, as Pfister began making his move into directing with Transcendence. Interstellar was a mixed bag, and arguably Nolan’s weakest for years, perhaps ever, but one thing that no one can argue against was the strength of the visuals and aesthetic of the space, time and dimension spanning film – cinematography that referenced decades of great science fiction cinema whilst also carving out its own unique iconography – its cinematography was one of the few features of the film that lingered long after its viewing. As such – and this is clear from the short teaser recently released – we will at the least be receiving a great film of spectacle if nothing else. Adding to this spectacle will be Hans Zimmer’s score (another element of Interstellar that was actually fantastic), and hopefully the result will be a visceral, gripping and ultimately optimistic experience – and an experience it is sure to be, in every sense of the word. Dunkirk is due for release on the 21st July 2017.

By Oliver Rowe

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