A dramatization of the British Expeditionary Force's 1940 retreat to the beaches of France and the extraordinary seaborne evacuation that saved it from utter destruction by Nazi Germany.



(novel) (as Elleston Trevor), (book) (as Lt. Col. Ewan Butler) | 3 more credits »

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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Holden
Charles Foreman
Robert Urquhart ...
Ray Jackson ...
Ronald Hines ...
Sean Barrett ...
Meredith Edwards ...
Dave Bellman
Rodney Diak ...
Michael Shillo ...
Eddie Byrne ...
Commander - Tough's Yard
Maxine Audley ...
Diana Foreman
Colonel - Medical Officer


Two stories in one - an easygoing British Corporal in France finds himself responsible for the lives of his men when their officer is killed. He has to get them back to Britain somehow. Meanwhile, British civilians are being dragged into the war with Operation Dynamo, the scheme to get the French and British forces back from the Dunkirk beaches. Some come forward to help, others are less willing. Written by Paul Galpin <galpinp@sabc.co.za>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Days That Shook the World! Victory Snatched From Disaster!


Drama | History | War


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Parents Guide:






Release Date:

10 September 1958 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Dunkerque  »

Box Office


$1,025,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?


Last screen appearance of Joss Ambler. See more »


During the artillery action early in the film, a tree falls over a few seconds before it is "hit" by a shell. See more »


Merchant Seaman: It may be a phoney war to you, but it's not to all the blokes at sea. Never has been.
See more »


Featured in Fifties British War Films: Days of Glory (2013) See more »


A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
Music by Manning Sherwin
Lyrics by Eric Maschwitz
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Uneven but the final half hour is worth the price of admission alone
4 February 2016 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Surprisingly, precious few films exist depicting the events of Operation Dynamo during World War II. The emergency evacuation of thousands of British, French and Belgian soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk while the Nazis closed in around them was described as a "colossal military blunder" by Winston Churchill and could have ended the war there and then. However, the assistance of hundreds of civilians who sailed from the south of England in a small armada of speedboats, yachts and fishing boats to rescue their battered allies provided a united front in what was then dubbed the 'Phoney War' and an astonishing tale of bravery to boot.

Leslie Norman's Dunkirk does not shy away from the buffoonery of high command which led to Allied troops being pushed further and further back until they were surrounded from every angle, but also explores themes of heroism in the face of invasion. Telling two parallel stories, we witness the events leading up to Dunkirk from the front-line, where inexperienced corporal 'Tubby' Binns (John Mills) finds himself in suddenly in charge after the death of his superior and separated from the bulk of his company in hostile territory. From the Home Front, cynical journalist Charles Foreman (Bernard Lee) is attempting to snap his fellow countrymen out of their laid-back state to pay attention to a war that is creeping on their doorstep.

Charles is met by people who agree with his concerns, but also those who are blissfully unaware of his country's dyer situation. In particular, local businessman Holden (Richard Attenborough) is making himself a tidy profit from the Phoney War and laps up the propaganda played over the radio. Attenborough's coward is the film's most intriguing plot-line and certainly the most complex character on show. Although he has relatively little screen-time compared to Mills and Lee, its Holden's reaction to the horror on the beach which subsequently changes his entire outlook that lingers in the mind once the film is over.

Mills' lovable Tubby looks like the more conventional hero, wise- cracking and back-slapping his men, but as the situation worsens his ability to command is questioned as leaves one of his men to die and fails to inspire his troops to move when told. Mills gets the bulk of the screen-time, and while his journey to the beaches provide some technically impressive set-pieces, there's an unevenness to the juxtaposition of the intertwining tales when they really deserve equal billing. Tubby's escapades means that it takes a long time to get the evacuation, but when it does, the sights of hundreds of soldiers wading out into the ocean in the hope of rescue and the horror exploding around them still holds up today. It's a moving and beautifully filmed final half hour that is worth the price of admission alone.

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