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Artistic License History / Dunkirk

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The historical liberties that were taken in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk.


  • This article outlines several, including the paucity of female characters, downplaying the role of the naval destroyers in the evacuation (and conversely overstating the importance of the civilian crafts), the limited scale of the film owing to Nolan's preference for Practical Effects over CGI, and a perceived over-dramatization of the historical record (including a quote from a veteran who was at Dunkirk in 1940: "You had the impression of people standing waiting for a bus. There was no pushing or shoving.").
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  • The weather was famously calm and still during the evacuation, unlike as depicted in the film (a device to increase the dramatic tension for the pleasure boats and other small craft, according to Nolan).
  • The actual use of "the little ships" was to ferry men from the beaches out to the deepwater ships that could not approach without running aground. A single trip as made by the Moonstone would have been an almost criminal waste of resources.
  • The film does not depict the town of Dunkirk in the state of ruin it endured during the events. Nor does it show the massive battle that was raging to protect the beach throughout the evacuation. The bitter defenses of both Lille and the Dunkirk perimeter in May 1940 by remains of the First French Army were as crucial as the mobilization of the Royal Navy for the success of Operation Dynamo. Seven German divisions were still closing in on Dunkirk after the "miracle" order of Adolf Hitler to stop his troops, some German generals compared the French defenders' resolve to World War I's Verdun. Winston Churchill saluted their bravery and sacrifice in his memoirs.
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  • The film seems to leave out that about 100 000 French soldiers were also evacuated at Dunkirk as well before the majority of them were returned to France to keep fighting (until the armistice of June 22, 1940). The British are initially refusing the French's plea at the start, but Churchill did insist the French would be evacuated alongside the British soldiers as the evacuation went on. Similarly, soldiers from India and Africa are also left out, or they are elsewhere.
  • The Stukas had their noses painted yellow a month after the battle of Dunkirk, when gearing up for the Battle of Britain.
  • The destroyer that gets torpedoed carries designation D36. Since her silhouette conforms to a V-class destroyer, this should be HMS Vivacious, which was indeed involved in Operation Dynamo. While getting the correct V-class destroyer in the movie could count as Shown Their Work, the fact that she got torpedoed does not.
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  • In Churchill's speech near the end of the film, the line about "a victory inside this deliverance" is taken out of context so that it implicitly refers to the whole successful evacuation. In truth, the next sentence was, "It was gained by the Air Force," followed by three paragraphs defending the Air Force from those who "saw only the bombers which escaped its protective attack" and presaging their importance in what would become the Battle of Britain.
  • Some 1980s buildings and beach pavilions of Dunkirk can be seen behind the dunes.

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