The re­lease of a block­buster war film has put the town of Dunkirk in the tourism spot­light, as Pierre de Vil­liers ex­plains

France - - Contents -

A re­port on Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, and the ef­forts to cut street noise in Paris.

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

ABOVE: Shoot­ing a scene for the film Dunkirk in Rue Belle Rade

ABOVE: The town hall and bel­fry in Dunkirk

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