French press hammers Dunkirk over historical accuracy

Ben Arnold
Anger... French critics are not quite to ebullient about Dunkirk as those in the UK - Credit: Warner Bros
Anger… French critics are not quite as overwhelmed about Dunkirk as those in the UK – Credit: Warner Bros

Christopher Nolan’s new World War II movie ‘Dunkirk’ might have wowed the critics in the US and on this side of the channel, but in France? Not so much.

In fact, the movie is getting slated for its perceived historical inaccuracies, most notably the omission of the French effort at the historic evacuation.

French newspaper Le Monde, in a furious notice, refers to the movie’s ‘stinging impoliteness’ and its ‘distressing indifference’ towards the French military’s role in helping the Allied forces which found themselves surrounded in Northern France, and that the plot is ‘purely British’.

“Where are the 120,000 French soldiers also evacuated from Dunkirk in this film? Where are the other 40,000 who sacrificed themselves to defend the city against a superior enemy in arms and in numbers?” writes Jacques Mandelbaum.

“Where are the members of the first army, which abandoned by their allies believed the game lost, nevertheless prevent, at Lille, several divisions of the Wehrmacht to sweep on Dunkirk? Where is Dunkerque, half destroyed by the bombardments, but rendered here invisible?”

He concedes that ‘a dozen seconds devoted to a group of French soldiers defending the city who were not very friendly and a few more to a French soldier disguised as British in order to try to flee the massacre’.

(Credit: Warner Bros)
(Credit: Warner Bros)

“That does not account for the indispensable French involvement to this crazy evacuation,” he goes on.

“No one can deny a director’s right to focus his point of view on what he sees fit, as long as it does not deny the reality of which it claims to represent.”

In Huffpost France, Gary Assouline appears equally frustrated.

“Anglo-Saxons have an unpleasant tendency to put forward the feats of the British army and pass over those of the French army,” he writes.

(Credit: Warner Bros)
(Credit: Warner Bros)

In The Local, an English-language publication in France, historian Dominique Lormier, who admits he has not yet seen the film, adds: “I hope that this film will highlight the sacrifice of the 30,000 Frenchmen who prevented the surrender of the British troops who would have been unable to defend the territory.

“By its heroic sacrifice, the French army did indeed save Great Britain from defeat. It was a tactical and strategic defeat for Hitler who could not then force Britain to negotiate a separate peace.”

After the war, Churchill himself lauded the French army at Dunkirk, saying: “The heroic resistance of the French army saved the British and allowed them to continue the war.”

Starring Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, and Cillian Murphy, the movie is due out on July 21.

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