Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
We had a big pre-Christmas link party last week! I reviewed the play Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Heather reviewed the Sins of the City series of male romances set in risk-filled Victorian London. Tina reviewed mysteries and books by Kate Hewitt. Becky reviewed The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain by Charles Dickens and Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith. Veronica shared her photos of the Christmas decorations at Blenheim Palace. Sim sought the grave of her British great-grandfather, who died and was buried in France during World War I. Jean read two of the Miss Read stories, one with a Christmas theme.
Two films released in 2017 tell stories about the greatest retreat in military history, when nearly 340,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated from the beaches near Dunkirk, a small city in the north of France near the Belgian border. Hundreds of small civilian boats were vital to the success of the operation. Some of those boats were piloted and crewed by the fishermen, pleasure boaters, and ferry operators who owned them.
The whole operation took nine days at the end of May and beginning of June in 1940.
In general, retreats aren’t high points of a war, but the success of the evacuation was dramatic enough to capture the attention of the country and the world, miraculous enough to raise hope, and triumphant enough to build determination.
Dunkirk is a huge film covering the evacuation from three viewpoints — land, sea, and air — in different, but overlapping time-frames. The land-based story follows one man who takes a week, including several aborted attempts, to get safely home. The sea story covers the harrowing adventures of one of those civilian-crewed boats during one day. The air story features the exploits of RAF pilots during one hour over the English Channel, protecting ships and beaches. The verisimilitude is outstanding. Most of us will never experience war like this, thank goodness, but if we’re going to continue to address our international affairs in that manner, we should all be aware of what it looks and sounds like.
Their Finest is set later in 1940 and into 1941, in London during the Blitz. The Ministry of Information needs to keep up morale at home and convince Americans to join their cause. A film with an inspiring story about the Dunkirk evacuation will be just the ticket. Catrin Cole (played by Gemma Aterton who I loved as the choir director in Unfinished Song) finds an opportunity as a screen writer, a man’s job that is only available to her because so many of the men are off fighting the war.
These two films couldn’t be more different.
Dunkirk relies on summer blockbuster spectacle and relays all the drama and triumph of this great historical event. There is very little dialogue but lots of dazzle. The story is events-driven with an ensemble cast that portrays characters in quick strokes between ever-increasing challenges. I watched this film in awe.
Their Finest is filled with dialogue — witty, poignant, dramatic, poetic, beautiful words. The actors are challenged to create both humor and depth in their characters. We get to see Bill Nighy achieve transformation as two characters, an actor who plays a character in the film-within-a-film. I laughed and cried watching this film.
Their Finest passes the Bechdel Test. Dunkirk tells the traditional male stories of war, with nurses as background and no mention of the support roles women played on shore.
I enjoyed Their Finest more than Dunkirk. Rick had the opposite opinion. I have high hopes that we’ll both enjoy the other World War II film of 2017 — Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill and Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill.
Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?