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The drama-documentary Dunkirk (2004) was, in my opinion, the finest example of the genre produced by the BBC and was well reviewed by John Keegan of The Telegraph, whose article of 19/02/04 may still be found on the web, although I could not agree with his suggestion that our men were pasty-faced, underfed soldiers not well represented by modern fresh-faced actors, for most of those I saw as a boy during the war, before and after Dunkirk, were neither pale nor hungry; but those of the BEF who formed an army in retreat and rout and who suffered strafing, hunger and fatigue on the beeches as they awaited embarkation, death or surrender, were no doubt not in the best of physical form.
The quality of this production, its direction and the performance of the cast were beyond reproach and should not have been the target of petty criticism. There were so many really excellent, convincing representations of personnel ranging from soldiers to generals and cabinet ministers that one is reluctant to select any of them for special mention, but among the actors whose roles were portrayed with startling realism were Benedict Cumberbatch as Lt Jimmy Langley, James Loye as Lt David Mellis RN (bearing a strong resemblance to the man whose part he played and, in one scene, carrying a photograph of the real Mrs Mellis, as she was in 1940), Adrian Rawlins as Capt Bill Tennant RN, Beechmaster, Simon Russell Beale as Winston Churchill, all outstanding performances.
The interpolation of archive film was very well done and enhanced the general picture of violent action at sea, the plight of the army, and the huge scale of the operations managed and co-ordinated by the Royal Navy, including those of inshore fishing vessels and other small craft. The disembarkations at Dover (including, I think, those of troops rescued by HMS Malcolm and piped ashore by Lt Mellis) and their entrainment for London could not have been more appropriate or more relevant to the drama, which seemed to fill in the gaps between main events and to inform us of the experiences of individuals and the roles of senior officers and politicians who played a part in the evacuation.
My only complaint is that this great work is not available on DVD.
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