IT was described as the ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ when 338,000 Allied troops were evacuated from the beaches of northern France during the Second World War.

Between May 26 and June 4, 1940, British, French and Belgian soldiers faced, with growing hopelessness, the rapid German advance across western Europe which left them trapped in their last stronghold: the coastal city of Dunkirk.

It happened in the early days of the conflict and was disastrous for the Allied war effort. But the heroism and fortitude shown by soldiers and the bravery of civilians, who crossed the Channel to help with the rescue, came to symbolise Britain’s stiff upper lip tenacity in those dark days.

The fact that Inception and The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan could turn this into a story that is harrowing, moving and inspiring in equal parts speaks volumes about his skill as a filmmaker.

One of the most haunting scenes is in the opening frames when the camera scales back to reveal thousands of soldiers at the beach who are all but helpless when they hear, with dread, the sound of a German bomber.

They can only run or duck and cover as they await their fate. This, among many other key scenes, is given extra power thanks to a tense and unsettling score by Hans Zimmer who is on extraordinary form.

Unlike most of his other movies, Nolan’s style is raw and stripped back here, presenting a version of real events from multiple narratives. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles (yes that Harry Styles who puts in a solid debut performance) come to encapsulate the struggle of the soldiers. Pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Jack Lowden (Collins) protect the skies.

Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his sons take their small leisure boat as unlikely helpers in the rescue effort. And dutiful Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) oversees the evacuation while trying to not be overcome with fear.

This is not a war film so much as a series of tales of survival and bravery where Nolan makes you invest in the characters.

And one of the clever tricks of the film is that the story’s crossed narratives are slightly out of sync so you get to see key scenes twice, from different perspectives.

The fact so many were successfully rescued in the face of such bleak odds led to Churchill’s famous ‘we shall fight on the beaches’ speech and Nolan wants you to find that as inspiring and miraculous as he does.

RATING: 8/10