Christopher Nolan should finally get an Academy Award for Dunkirk. He deserves it for masterfully telling one tiny slice of the overwhelming massive story of hundreds of thousands of British Expeditionary Force (BEF) soldiers stranded on the beaches, hoping against hope for rescue while exposed to Nazi Stuka Dive Bombers and ME 109 Fighters bombing and strafing, seemingly at will.
Kenneth Branagh’s role of hopeless exposure is as skillful as Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot faced with more opportunities to save people than his Spitfire has gas to confront.
“But if not.” Nolan tells the poignant story of one of 1,200 boats that launched from Britain across the channel to the German controlled beach to possibly survive and bring home soldiers. The beach was broad and shallow. Destroyers could not get close and smaller ships got annihilated. Before the boat can be commandeered by the Navy, they launch to go do what is right.
Nolan does not touch the “Why?” Why did so many boats go when they were not commandeered?
Evidently a naval officer (like Branagh) facing the horrific waste of 350,000 fighting men, knowing that the British thought they MIGHT rescue 40,000 sent back a cable that “went viral” and it simply had three words, “But if not.”
England was biblically literate. Schoolboys and girls knew the story of Daniel’s three friends, confronted with a 90 foot tall, gold statue of Nebudchanezzer and a hundred thousand people bending the knee to it, who refused. They could bow and worship God, but not bow down to a mere man.
Next to the statue, a furnace awaited any who reused to bow, now heated seven times hotter, so that those who will put these three Jewish men in that furnace all die. The king knows them. Respects them. Is furious with them, furious at the slight. Think Hitler with the British.
And the Naval Officer says he hopes for rescue, “But if not”. The three men facing the furious king tell him their God Can save them, rescue even from the maws of the most furious furnace any had ever seen. “But if not” they would never, could never bow down to the king’s gods or statue.
England caught the resolve. If not rescued, then the remnants of the BEF would remain, bloody and unbowed. Then boats headed into the Channel’s choppy waters and loaded, and reloaded, and reloaded with soldiers. But if not fell to them.
But if not would not be true on their watch. So, instead of the Navy bringing home 40,000 men, Britain’s boatmen brought home 350,000.
And Hitler, who was already prepping for victory parades over France and Britain, like Nebudchanezzer turned out to be premature, turned out to be dead wrong.
At the core of British resolve, a Naval Officer had only to quote three words from a Biblical story and the effects kept chain reacting through ordinary people, until a pivotal battle ‘s outcome was completely reversed.
See? A little detail can increase the story’s impact. Oh, and after throwing in three, the king saw four in the furnace, and when invited out, the three emerged without a singed hair. Evidently, “but if not” did not fall on God’s deaf ears that day either.