NEWS RETURN TO DUNKIRK
The release of a blockbuster war film has put the town of Dunkirk in the tourism spotlight, as Pierre de Villiers explains
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When Christopher Nolan announced that he was making a film about the Dunkirk beach evacuation during World War II, it set off a flurry of activity in one small tourist office in northern France.
The fact that Nolan is one of the most popular directors in the world (his movies have grossed almost £4 billion to date) meant the tourist team in Dunkerque (as the town is known in France) had to ready itself for a huge influx of fans seeking the locations where filming took place. Now, with only weeks to go until Dunkirk is released, the commune is more than ready to welcome hordes of visitors
“The tourism office has launched no fewer than four tours – by bus, boat and plane – which follow in the trail of Christopher Nolan’s movie,” said , Sabine L’hermet, director of Dunkirk Tourism. “The Dunkirk evacuation is already a well-known historical event that draws visitors from around the world to this area, and we’re sure the film will increase the numbers significantly. You add the fact that the director behind the movie is someone as respected as Nolan and we’re expecting a lot more people to come to Dunkirk.”
The big-budget action film shows how, in 1940, more than 330,000 Allied troops, under heavy fire from German forces, were miraculously evacuated within just nine days during Operation Dynamo. Described by the director as “not a war film, but a survival story”, it features an all-star cast (Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh all join the fight).
It is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated movies of the year and, judging by the trailers, will have some of the greatest battles scenes ever brought to the big screen. The sheer scale of the production was captured by residents in Dunkirk, who took photographs as thousands of extras dressed in uniform poured into the area. L’hermet said: “Filming was done in the exact spots where Operation Dynamo took place: on the beach, on the pier, and in the streets of Malo-les-bains [now part of Dunkirk].”
Finding himself in the eye of a storm, Nolan directed operations like a seasoned general. “Chris is one the greats,” said Irish actor Cillian Murphy. “His philosophy, the way he shoots, how he envisions the whole journey, is a very remarkable thing and it’s going to be something to marvel at.
“Working with him is a relationship I treasure. We’ve known each other
a long time; I’m so loyal to him, and he has been likewise, very loyal to me. It is a remarkable working friendship, where I have been granted the gift of working on his creations, and this will, I think blow minds.”
Adding to the excitement, and the number of people rubbernecking during filming, is the fact that the film features One Direction singer Harry Styles in his first starring role on the big screen. “He’s a natural,” said Murphy. “Chris wouldn’t have hired him if he didn’t think he was up to the job. He would never be swayed by that sort of hype; it’s down to ability.”
The presence of Styles, a performer with legions of fans, is sure to increase tourism in Dunkirk even more. The four tours (dubbed ‘Dunkerque Dynamo: Land, Sea, Air’) not only point out film locations, but explore the real-life beach evacuation. They show areas such as the eastern pier in the harbour from where troops embarked, the beach, the Dunkirk Memorial in the British war graves section of the town cemetery, and the French cemetery in Zuydcoote.
One guided trip involves a boat journey that takes in the waterfront of Malo-les-bains while the captain talks about the wrecks of ships sunk in 1940, while another offers a spin in a Beechcraft light aircraft so you can put yourself in the shoes of a Spitfire pilot. It is a set of tours that will not only satisfy film and history buffs but show newcomers to the commune how beautiful Dunkirk really is.
“It’s a place with gorgeous beaches that are perfect for water sports, a medieval belfry that’s a Unesco World Heritage Site, important museums and contemporary art,” said L’hermet.
“Our excellent restaurants will also win over people, as will the seaside architecture that will whisk them back to the belle-époque era. The theme of Christopher Nolan’s film may be bleak, but people who come here will discover a different side of Dunkirk.”
Dunkirk is in cinemas from 21 July. For information on the Dunkirk tours visit www.dunkirk-tourism.com
ABOVE: Shooting a scene for the film Dunkirk in Rue Belle Rade
ABOVE: The town hall and belfry in Dunkirk