Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan has tackled the Batman franchise and mind-bending dramas like Inception, but says his latest WWII epic stretched even his expertise.
The film Dunkirk — to be released on Thursday — details the evacuation of more than 300,000 troops from French beaches to England in 1940 as German forces attacked by air and sea.
“Like most British people, Dunkirk is a story I grew up with; it is in my bones,” Nolan told News Breakfast.
“I don’t even remember the first time somebody told me about the events of Dunkirk.
“As a British person it has that amazing resonance.”
Most of the filming for Dunkirk was done on the same beaches the evacuations took place. (Supplied: IMAX)
The story has become legendary in British culture due to the repeated acts of bravery from hundreds of civilians who sailed their steamers, tugs, cruisers and yachts across the English Channel into the battle to help with the evacuation.
Nolan said their effort was driven home to him during a trip 20 years ago when he joined a friend on a small boat to cross the channel at about the same time of year the evacuation took place.
“The trip was very arduous, the channel was extremely rough, and it felt life-threatening, it felt very dangerous. And that was without people dropping bombs on us,” he said.
“So I came away from the experience marvelling at the real people who in 1940 really helped out with the evacuation.
“It just cemented a fascination within me for what inspired that in people, what was that situation that led to that greatness.”
The Hollywood heavyweight has written and directed box office hits like the Dark Knight Batman series, Interstellar, The Prestige and Memento.
Turning his mind to a true story for the first time, however, required a different approach.
“It was inspiring to me to be able to change my creative process,” he said.
“Usually when you are writing you are having to create the whole world you want the film to take place in, and then figure out how to go through that maze.
“With this, that was already there, I just had to learn it, get to know it and then create fictional characters that I could use to guide me and guide the audience through the labyrinth of the events and give them a cohesive picture.”
The film tackles the events of the evacuation by following stories of pilots, foot soldiers and sailors.
For Nolan, it was crucial he could remain professionally critical of the events.
“It’s an inherently emotional story … we tried to tell it with objectivity,” he said.
“Shooting on the real beach on the 76th anniversary of the real days of the evacuation and watching little ships turn up that had really made that journey in 1940 … it’s a very special thing to be able to do.”