Diary: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk – a Shakespearean tragedy?

Kenneth Branagh. Photo: Blake Gardner Kenneth Branagh. Photo: Blake Gardner
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The audiences flocking to the cinema to see Dunkirk may not immediately spot the influence of Shakespeare, but it is there. It turns out director Christopher Nolan was “profoundly affected” by one production as he was putting together the epic Second World War film.

Dunkirk stars one of Britain’s great Shakespearean actor-directors in Kenneth Branagh, who sat down with The Stage to talk about his new production of Hamlet at RADA.

The theatrical knight gave us insight into the war film, which he described as “profoundly theatrical”. Sir Ken revealed that Nolan had come to see him after one performance of The Winter’s Tale, a production he directed in 2015.

“We talked for an hour,” he revealed. “He has a bold vision and scrutinises things intently. He is obsessed with time and reflected on its purpose in Shakespeare’s play.”

The director “later talked about how profoundly the play affected him”, Branagh said, pointing out it was at the time he was working on Dunkirk. “He is a canny writer; who knows how Shakespeare’s fairytale on the death of the innocent might have influenced his thoughts about the young lives exposed in Dunkirk?”

We must have blinked and missed the bit in Dunkirk where the allied soldiers danced at the sheep-shearing festival.

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