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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Dunkirk 'like virtual reality without the headset', says director Christopher Nolan

The man behind the war epic talks about his latest project which is set for July 27 release

Christopher Nolan on the set of his previous film Inception. Courtesy Stockwell Communications
Christopher Nolan on the set of his previous film Inception. Courtesy Stockwell Communications

Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan has revealed the challenges that went into making his forthcoming Second World War epic, in an essay he wrote for The Telegraph in the United Kingdom.

The biggest hurdle, Nolan explains, is that American audiences that are used to a Hollywood diet of brave GI’s defeating the Nazis, are largely unaware of the events of the war prior to their country's involvement in 1942, including Operation Dynamo – the subject of Dunkirk – in which the British royal air force, navy and countless merchant and fishing ships set out across the English Channel to rescue around 400,000 allied troops from France’s Dunkirk Beach, where they were surrounded by German forces and counting down the hours to their elimination.

“As for a lot of British people, Dunkirk is a story I grew up with in its mythic, almost fairy-tale form,” he writes. “It’s a massive event that needs to be portrayed on a huge scale, which requires a substantial budget. That comes from Hollywood studios. The studios are interested in films about Americans, and there were no Americans involved. So I didn’t want to try and take on this subject until I had enough trust from a studio that they would let me make it as a British film, but with an American budget. That’s the opportunity that I’ve earned and the one I’ve taken.”

Nolan goes on to describe how he dived head-first into reading as many first-hand accounts of the operation as he could, and even spoke to as many of the few remaining survivors, now in their 90s or older, as he could, although it was a rather more modern day twist that Nolan felt finally persuaded Warner Bros to green light the project.

"My pitch to Warner Bros was 'we’re going to put the audience into the cockpit of a Spitfire and have them dogfight the Messerschmitts',” he explains. “We’re going to put them on the beach, feeling the sand getting everywhere, confronting the waves. We’re going to put them on small civilian boats bouncing around on the waves on this huge journey heading into a terrifying war zone. It’s virtual reality without the headset.”

Nolan adds that wherever possible, he used real ships and planes matching those from the time rather than opting for CGI. The much-anticipated film looks set to be a visual feast when it hits cinemas on July 27.

Keep an eye out for our interview with Kenneth Brannagh, who plays Commander Bolton in Dunkirk, in Arts&Lifestyle in The National closer to the movie’s release.