BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014
Press Office
Search the BBC and Web
Search BBC Press Office

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Press Releases & Press Packs




Dunkirk press pack

A group of soldiers


What happened at Dunkirk in May and June 1940 must rank as one of the greatest maritime evacuations in history.

Told from the perspective of the decision makers and the soldiers, sailors and civilians caught up in the events of those desperate days, this factual drama follows the race against time to save the Allied armies trapped in France.

As British and French troops were forced into a shrinking pocket by the relentless onslaught of the German army, the Royal and Merchant navies, helped by a fleet of small civilian craft, launched a momentous effort to rescue them - and miraculously managed to save more than 338,000 men in just ten days.

BBC TWO's Dunkirk tells the story of those momentous days. The stories are the result of an exhaustive research project which unearthed previously untold personal accounts of what happened.

All the characters portrayed are real. All the events are taken from these first-hand accounts.

Dunkirk is on BBC TWO on three successive nights at 9.00pm starting on Wednesday 18 February.

In Scotland it can be seen on BBC TWO at 9pm on Thursday 19 February and Friday 20 February, and at 9.15pm on Saturday 21. In Wales Dunkirk will be on BBC TWO at 9pm on Thursday, 9.30pm on Friday and 9.15pm on Saturday.

Alex Holmes, director of Dunkirk explains: "We started by reading the official documents (including previously unseen records at the National Archive), private letters and archives, as well as accounts lodged by Dunkirk veterans.

"We then interviewed more than a hundred survivors who shared with us their memories and experiences. From this research we selected a cross-section of accounts through which we could tell the story of Dunkirk."

Co-writer Neil McKay (Wall of Silence, The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper and The Murder of Stephen Lawrence) explains: "One of the reasons why it seemed so important to make the drama now is that the survivors of Dunkirk are in their eighties or older.

"In 10 or 15 years the people who went through this extraordinary experience may be gone and the opportunity will have been lost for ever.

"We hope the films will not just be gripping drama, but a fitting tribute to those who went through the experience of Dunkirk."

One theme is the often bitter disputes within the War Cabinet.

Simon Russell Beale as Winston ChurchillWinston Churchill (played by 2003 Olivier award-winner Simon Russell Beale) had only been Prime Minister for 16 days when he was faced with a military disaster.

Almost the entire British Expeditionary Force in France was in danger of being captured or killed, and some cabinet colleagues wanted to press for peace in order to save them.

Churchill insisted on fighting, pressing ahead with the evacuation.

When Churchill ordered the beginning of Operation Dynamo (code name for the Navy plan for the evacuation) the first gloomy estimates were that only 45,000 of the soldiers trapped on the beaches could be rescued, but ten days later more than 338,000 had been brought home.

A group of soldiersThe bulk of the troops crossed the channel in Royal and Merchant Navy ships.

A fleet of smaller civilian craft played a crucial role, making repeated trips between the beaches and larger vessels waiting offshore, often under heavy bombardment and with no means of defence.

The drama-documentary series tells the story of the Army's rearguard who valiantly held a last line of defence, allowing hundreds of thousands of others time to escape.

Hundreds of wounded had to be left behind and the films also tell the story of those who stayed to care for them.

Producer Rob Warr says: "Dunkirk is the most astonishing rescue mission.

"If it weren't for Operation Dynamo, Britain would have been knocked out of the war almost before it had started.

"But through perseverance Britain survived and the Allied war effort was kept alive.

"We hope our series will help people understand the depth of courage and determination needed to triumph against such insuperable odds."

Alex Holmes adds: "By the time Operation Dynamo was over some 68,000 had been killed or captured, among them some of the civilians who had volunteered to crew their own boats to help in the evacuation.

"When I talked to veterans I was moved by their willingness to risk everything.

"In making this series we wanted to recreate as closely as possible the experiences of the veterans we had interviewed, and to find a way of recreating on screen the intensity of the hastily improvised operation.

"We filmed in a reportage style to put viewers at the centre of events, just as the subjects of our stories had been."

The cast also includes Christopher Good as Neville Chamberlain, Richard Durden (Daniel Deronda) as Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, and Clement Attlee is played by his grandson, Richard Attlee (The Archers).

Commander of the BEF, General Lord Gort, is played by John Carlisle (The Forsyte Saga). Clive Wood (London's Burning, The Bill) plays General Henry Pownall, Michael Legge (Angela's Ashes) plays Wilf Saunders, Phil Cornwell (Dead Ringers) plays Harry Noakes and Kevin McNally (Pirates of the Caribbean, Spooks) plays Major General Harold Alexander, who oversaw the final stages of the evacuation from the beach.

It will be narrated by Timothy Dalton.

Dunkirk is directed by Alex Holmes and produced by Rob Warr.

It was shot in and around Dunkirk itself, in Belgium and the UK.

Dunkirk will be supported by a full interactive TV service, which will provide key background information about the evacuation.

Digital viewers will be able to access additional films through pressing the red button on their remote control.

After each episode digital viewers can access three different factual films which include interviews with British, French and German eyewitnesses telling the true stories of different parts of the evacuation as depicted in that evening's drama.

Their testimonies allow viewers to hear first hand accounts of living through the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The People's War website - which is gathering the public's stories of World War II - will also be devoted particularly to people's personal stories of Dunkirk during transmission.

There will also be documentaries on BBC TWO and BBC FOUR supporting the Dunkirk season.

Michael Legge interview


Interactive element


Accompanying documentaries

Dunkirk - a few facts

All the BBC's digital services are now available on Freeview, the new free-to-view digital terrestrial television service, as well as on satellite and cable.

Freeview offers the BBC's eight television channels, interactive services from BBCi, as well as 11 national BBC radio networks.



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy