The movie “Dunkirk” shows viewers one of the most significant military retreats throughout history.

This is a World War II film, where by mid-1940s the Nazis had swept across Europe and penned approximately 400,000 Allied soldiers, including 200,000 members of the British Expeditionary Force, into the northern French port city of Dunkirk.

The 400,000 Allied troops were faced with capture and/or possible annihilation, with little hope of rescue as nearly 30 ships of the Royal Navy had been lost, the waters teemed with enemy U-boats, the skies were dominated with Luftwaffe, and Churchill needed to prioritise the looming German invasion of the homeland.

“Dunkirk” is not the story of one man’s journey, indeed the film’s characters remain relatively anonymous, bar their challenges and struggles to remain alive. Instead, “Dunkirk” is a collective organism – of soldiers, boats and planes – a portrait of society, fighting for it’s life.

As such, “Dunkirk” oscillates among three sections which are told at different timings:

• The beach sequences cover a week’s duration
400,000 soldiers are sitting ducks along Dunkirk Beach, isolated, vulnerable to attack on all fronts. In the desperate attempt to survive we see two soldiers picking up a stretcher and trying to get onto a medical boat carrying one wounded. Medical boats are torpedoed as all access to escape is countered.

• The boat sequence takes place over one day
Across the Channel in England, a British father, son and son’s friend unload a small yacht which has been requisitioned by Allied military. Rather than giving his yacht away, the father aided by the two teenagers become part of a civilian fleet, an armada of small civilian vessels, fishing boats, steamers, tugs and ferries – who race across the Channel to provide assistance and rescue Allied forces.

•The plane sequences take one hour
Three Spitfire pilots aim to protect the Allied forces buy shooting down Luftwaffe planes – ever-mindful of limited fuel supplies.
Be warned, this film has all the realism of war – men dropping to the sand as planes scream by dropping bombs, Spitfires crashing into the sea, boats tipping, men drowning, men traumatised and in shock.

Whilst I found myself utterly immersed in “Dunkirk”, this film also leaves one feeling sober and beleaguered – as it should.

“Dunkirk” is an epic film, in subject, image, reach and emotion. It is a must see, and hopefully provokes discussion and reflection.

Definitely 4 out of 5 stars.