We have just been to see Dunkirk or more precisely Dunkerque on the big IMAX screen at Toulon. It was in French of course and we confess to failing to follow some of the dialogue. Despite an over-clever structure it was certainly very impressive on the big, big screen with the floor-shaking sound effects. With lives that have included being shelled, shot at, bombed, and in Chris’s case escaping Lebanon in the hold of a cargo ship, we can vouch for some degree of authenticity.
Dunkirk is an interesting event because the Vichy regime who ruled France under Nazi control painted it as a betrayal of France by the British. In return the British were happy for Dunkirk to be considered the result of French incompetence and cowardice. Although neither allegation is true, accusations like these linger over the years and the French press in particular has had to explain the background to the film.
Behind this is the interesting way in which Britain and France have differed in how the Second World War is treated. At the risk of grotesque oversimplification the British have tended to look back nostalgically on the Second World War as a heroic, glorious confrontation between good and evil in which Britain came out bloody but triumphant. In contrast the French have no such memory of the Second World War as being the glory days. For them the war was marked by the appallingly sudden fall of France and then the humiliating and evil puppet regime of Vichy. Yes, there was the heroism of the Resistance and the very important French contribution to the liberation of Europe, but overall 1939-45 was a messy, ugly war for France marked by defeat, occupation and betrayal. The result was that, with the war over, France chose to largely ignore what had happened and instead looked to the future. (Tellingly, there is no official French history of the Second World War nor is there ever likely to be.)
The repercussions of these differing views continue to the present day. Shaking off the troubling war, France chose to identify firmly with the creation of a new Europe. Britain, still focused on the past war they won, instead stumbled blindly forward through the loss of empire into a future that only tentatively involved Europe. And that of course ultimately has spilled into the current Brexit debacle. Indeed, in the current debate one does hear voices speaking of “the Dunkirk spirit” and Britain “going it alone”. History can cast a very long shadow.
By way of contrast and apropos of almost nothing the lavender is out on the high plateau and we thought it would be a nice idea to include a picture.