Dunkirk DVD review: Emotionally draining account of World War II evacuation
Young British soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) escapes a hail of German bullets and races to the beaches of Dunkirk, where more than 300,000 exhausted men await rescue.
He huddles alongside terrified recruits Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles), whose fates rest in the hands of Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and Captain Winnant (James D'Arcy). On the other side of the Channel, sailor Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) answers Winston Churchill's impassioned call for civilian boats to rescue the boys. He is accompanied by his teenage son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and the lad's friend, George (Barry Keoghan).
At sea, the family rescues a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) from the hull of an overturned vessel and witnesses a dogfight between German fighter planes and Royal Air Force Spitfires piloted by Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden).
Dunkirk is a stunning mosaic of personal stories of triumph and defeat against the sprawling backdrop of the largest evacuation of Allied forces during the Second World War.
Director Christopher Nolan adopts a stripped-back approach to storytelling that jettisons dialogue for long sequences. He sets our nerves on edge in the hauntingly beautiful opening scene and steadily tightens the knot of tension in our stomachs until we are physically and emotionally spent. Pulses race in time with composer Hans Zimmer's terrific score, which includes a soft percussive beat like a clock ticking down to doomsday, and a new arrangement of Elgar's melancholic Nimrod from Enigma Variations.
The ensemble cast is excellent, including Styles, who hefts the emotional weight of one nerve-jangling standoff in a sinking boat.