Some of the most amazing things about Dunkirk, the lauded new movie written and directed by Christopher Nolan, are the things that are not in the film. Dunkirk dramatizes what was considered at the time a massive failure — the 1940 evacuation of 300,000 British troops from France at the beginning of World War II. In Dunkirk the film there’s no cute, sarcastic hero like in American action films (Christopher Nolan is British). There are no lingering torture scenes, a specialty of American sadist Quentin Tarantino. Indeed, the faces of the villains in Dunkirk — the German forces — are never seen. There are no ridiculous stunts that defy physics and common sense. There’s very little Computer Graphics Images, the gleaming special effects technology that makes so many modern films look like plastic. There’s no happy ending, but there is an astonishing, tear-inducing climax that is one of the best defenses of the West and freedom ever committed to film. These omissions, along with rich cinematography, the brilliant use of music, terrific actors and a general tone of understatement combine to make Dunkirk—a story of survival and stirring patriotism in the face of evil—a truly great film.
Public life has never been more public than it is today, and the lives of famous people are examined as never before. Gone are the days when a President’s polio or marital infidelities were passed over in silence by a compliant press corps. A rhinoceros hide is required now, as perhaps never before, for a life in politics—though, as the new President has amply demonstrated, a rhinoceros hide is by no means incompatible with a thin skin.
Who among us has no embarrassing secrets? The constant risk of exposure and humiliation must deter many good people from seeking public office. We demand perfection and get mediocrity.
It is not even necessary any more for the famous to die for their lives to be turned into soap opera, as has happened to the British royal family with The Crown.
In February of 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to Yalta and ceded geopolitical control of Eastern Europe to Joseph Stalin. At the conference, Winston Churchill could do nothing. In return for the Soviet dictator’s promise of allowing Poland to hold elections to set its postwar political course (and a vague assurance of democratic elections in the other countries occupied by Red Army troops at the close of World War II), the allies let him keep possession of the eastern part of Poland. This was, in effect, ratification of Stalin’s 1939-1941 territorial gains as the ally of Adolf Hitler.
Churchill had consistently attempted to block Stalin’s expansionism, but with the American President distancing himself from Britain, Stalin had little trouble setting himself up for a postwar empire taking in not only Eastern but parts of Central Europe.
Today, with the “framework of understanding” between the United States and Iran on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Barack Obama has devised his own Yalta.
This year marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, an important landmark in the development of the English common law. His consent dramatically extorted by defiant barons at Runnymede in June of 1215, King John agreed to limits on the power of the crown.
The spectacle of a proud king bending before the will of his subjects fired the imagination of one the greatest guardians of freedom: Sir Winston S. Churchill. Churchill frequently pointed to Magna Carta as the foundation of the British liberties he strove so mightily to defend. Indeed, the medieval charter retained a remarkable inspirational immediacy for Churchill, who was inclined to trace clear lines of descent through the congested and meandering corridors of history.