Dunkirk – 400,000 English and French troops are trapped by enemy forces and desperately wait for rescue but with the enemy raining down attacks from the air, their plight seems impossible to survive. Rescue may be on its way but will it be enough to take everyone home and are the civilians who are on their way to help enough to pick up the slack?

Dunkirk (2017) – Director: Christopher Nolan

Is Dunkirk appropriate for kids?

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Rating: 12

Running Length: 106 mins

Starring: Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh

Genre: War


The evacuation of British and French troops on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940 has continued to be an enduring memory of heroism and tragedy in World War II. When most of the war’s stories go to the more Hollywood-friendly evil of the Nazi party, the day-to-day fighting of ordinary troops on both sides usually takes a back-seat. What ‘Dunkirk’ does best is not only portray the terror and helplessness of the soldiers’ situations but also the boredom, frustration and anxiety of not knowing when the next attack will happen.

The movie takes one day and focuses on three perspectives – land, sea and air. The land troops are soldiers, desperate to survive; a father, son and young friend sail from England to help in their ‘drop in the ocean’ but also essential way; and pilots searching to down fighter planes that are trying to sink ships laden with men and supplies below. With little dialogue, the excellently atmospheric and often oppressive score from Hans Zimmer takes centre stage adding an extra layer of tension to proceedings and sets the scene for an immersive experience to put the audience at the heart of the action. Surprisingly, the story does not have a particularly strong narrative that one might expect from a high-budget war movie which adds to the chaotic desperation of the characters’ situations, who lurch from one life-or-death moment and impossible decision to another without any real plan is what makes it so believable.

The dedication to show Dunkirk as it truly was is admirable and with Nolan not shying away from a less action-packed war film, his expert direction takes ‘Dunkirk’ to make it exactly what it should be.


It is clear that the men on the beach have been there for some time and are regularly attacked from the air. Full body bags are seen as well as those who have just been killed, lying still in the sand. When an attack happens on-screen, a character is seen taking cover in the foreground as explosions hit the sand, getting increasingly closer to his position. Another, incidental, character can be seen at some distance away and, when an explosion hits near him, he is thrown bodily high into the air.

A ship that has been packed full of wounded men is attacked, men who are able-bodied enough managed to leap into the water but others can be heard crying out in distress. A man is saved from being crushed by the boat but others are not so lucky. An officer looks on in despair but is unable to help those on board.

When a ship is attacked, dozens of men who have been locked in below deck panic as the vessel quickly fills with water. The visuals switch between the panic underwater as the men struggle to move around each other and the darkness above the water as it reaches the ceiling and the men bang their fists against it. They scream and cry out in fear and although a few manage to escape, most are killed. The chaos of the situation is likely to be confusing and upsetting for kids who can empathise with the men who are terrified and dying.

A few characters watch silently as an incidental character removes some (although not all) of his clothes and walks into the ocean in order to commit suicide. They do nothing to stop him but this is understandable due to what they and everyone around them is going through. Nothing distressing is seen here.

After a ship is sunk and leaks oil into the sea, a plane crashes into it, setting the oil and surface of the water alight. Several survivors of the wreckage are caught in the flames and cry out in pain. One soldier manages to stay underwater for some time but struggles to hold his breath; having to surface for air, as he is in the middle of the fire, he does not survive the flames.


‘Dunkirk’ follows the very real story of war and puts the audience right in the middle of what the men went through; survival was the order of the day, barely leaving any room for big acts of heroism or moments of selfish cowardice.

The above highlighted scenes are examples of the stronger content in the movie but there is little let up in regards to the dangers that the characters face as well as the tension which builds exponentially, especially with added help from the oppressive musical score. There are numerous deaths with suffering more heard than seen and there is barely any or gore.

While the content itself is unlikely to be too upsetting for kids, the slow pace and lack of big action sequences will make it a dull watch for many younger viewers and therefore we recommend this movie for kids aged 10 and over.

  • Violence: 3/5 (very little blood or gore. Deaths of unseen or incidental characters are implied or spoken about. Some more established characters are killed)
  • Emotional Distress: 2/5 (The suffering of dying men can be heard several times throughout the movie. Although it is sad when established characters die, these moments are not designed to pull at the heart-strings too much)
  • Fear Factor: 3/5 (the atmosphere in numerous scenes becomes extremely tense and it is often unclear whether the characters are going to survive)
  • Sexual Content: 0/5
  • Bad Language: 2/5 (some mild cursing and blasphemy. Two strong words are used)
  • Dialogue: 0/5 (there is very little dialogue at all throughout)
  • Other Notes: Deals with themes of war, survival, helplessness, death, hope, helping those in need, shell shock (post traumatic stress disorder) and the desire to get home.

Words by Laura Record


Great British Movies – WWII [DVD]

New From: £11.50 GBP In Stock

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