DUNKIRK

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN -

IN­CEP­TION EX­PLORED THE hu­man sub­con­scious. The Dark Knight Rises pre­sented an en­tire city un­der siege. And In­ter­stel­lar pushed the very laws of physics to their ex­treme. Where next for the ever-am­bi­tious Christo­pher Nolan? The most colos­sal con­flict in hu­man his­tory, that’s where.

“Film­mak­ers al­ways look for gaps in cin­ema,” Nolan tells Em­pire. “And Dunkirk is one of the great­est sto­ries in hu­man his­tory, un­told in mod­ern cin­ema.” Joe Wright’s Atone­ment tack­led the epic evac­u­a­tion of 330,000 Al­lied sol­diers be­tween 26 May and 4 June 1940 af­ter the Bat­tle Of France was lost, but no movie has made Op­er­a­tion Dy­namo its fo­cus since Les­lie Nor­man’s Dunkirk in 1958. That film had used Trevor Dud­ley-smith’s novel The Big Pick-up as its chief in­spi­ra­tion, fo­cus­ing equally on the re­treat­ing sol­diers and the plucky boat-own­ing civil­ians who mucked in to help. But Nolan says he found his in “the many first-hand ac­counts of peo­ple who went through this unique ex­pe­ri­ence”.

Which meant gath­er­ing quite an ensem­ble to strug­gle in the sand. Join­ing such fresh faces as Fionn White­head, Will At­ten­bor­ough (grand­son of Richard, who ap­peared in the ’58 Dunkirk), Barry Keoghan and Harry Styles (yes, that one) are Nolan reg­u­lars Cil­lian Mur­phy and Tom Hardy, plus a few im­pres­sive veter­ans — namely Ken­neth Branagh and Mark Ry­lance.

“Chris is the most se­ri­ous and in­ter­est­ing film­maker,” says Ry­lance, whose ex­act role has yet to be re­vealed. “This is his war film; ev­ery great film­maker, at some mo­ment, makes one. He’s made a pow­er­ful, sim­ple and pure war film. About a re­treat, a loss. A mirac­u­lous loss.”

Nolan is main­tain­ing his rep­u­ta­tion for keep­ing things as prac­ti­cal as pos­si­ble. “Be­cause there’s no CGI, ev­ery­thing has to be cre­ated in front of the IMAX cam­era,” re­ports Ry­lance. “It was

fas­ci­nat­ing to watch.” The pro­duc­tion shot on lo­ca­tion in Dunkirk, us­ing elab­o­rate cut-out props of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles to pop­u­late back­grounds, re­con­di­tion­ing French Navy de­stroyer the Mail­lébrézé and crash­ing an an­tique air­craft for real. “I wanted to use my large-for­mat cam­era to im­merse the au­di­ence in this in­cred­i­ble jour­ney,” says Nolan. “The movie puts the au­di­ence into the boots of some­one there on the beach, into the cock­pit of a spit­fire pi­lot, onto the deck of a civil­ian yacht en­ter­ing hell.” As Ry­lance puts it, “It lands run­ning. It’s just BANG! Straight into the mid­dle of a des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion.” Nolan con­firms that it’ll be a vis­ceral ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s an IMAX odyssey,” he says. “Vir­tual re­al­ity with­out gog­gles.” DAN JOLIN

Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Hoyte Van Hoytema and di­rec­tor Christo­pher Nolan on lo­ca­tion. Left: Tom Hardy as Far­rier.

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