One hundred and six minutes of nerve-shredding tension. A budget of $100m. Six thousand extras. Harry Styles. When Dunkirk crash-landed onto our screens this summer, it was the movie event of the year. British director Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster epic tells the story of the Allied forces’ dramatic retreat from France in the midst of the second world war. Unlike most war movies, there is no romance and barely any dialogue; the whole movie is one brilliantly staged action set piece, split across three storylines. Dunkirk has been praised for its realism and suspense, becoming that rare thing: a critical and commercial hit. What can we learn from it?


After the Dunkirk evacuation, Winston Churchill praised the “devotion [and] courage” of those who had carried it out. Indeed, from the Spitfire pilot racing against time to the yacht owner who embarks on a rescue mission, many of the film’s characters display extraordinary bravery. What does this quality mean to us?


Like Nolan’s last two films, Inception and Interstellar, Dunkirk plays with our sense of time. It weaves together three storylines: one takes place over an hour, one over a day and one over a week. Time is not as straightforward as we think…

World War II

The Dunkirk evacuation was a turning point in the war: a defeat for the Allies, but also the beginning of the fightback against Nazi Germany. Dunkirk tells its story in vivid detail. “It was just like I was there again,” said a 97-year-old veteran of the battle after seeing the movie. How do we remember the second world war today?


The European Union did not yet exist in 1940, and Nolan’s movie was conceived long before the UK voted to leave it. But that has not stopped people interpreting this tale of a British evacuation from the continent as an allegory for Brexit. What should you know about the nation’s withdrawal from the EU?


Much has been made of the fact that Dunkirk was shot on actual film, not the digital cameras favoured by most directors nowadays. Nolan argues that this gives the movie richer, more detailed visuals. Technological progress brings many advantages — but is it always a good thing?