1917 (quick read)


Rating: 5 out of 5.

The horrors of the First World War have long been reflected in film, from the handheld camera footage of those men crossing the blood-soaked landscape of no-mans-land to the movies that came after. Here, the innocence and bravery of those young people, women and men who entered the apocalyptic brutality of conflict have found multiple interpretations from Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) to the haunting Journey’s End (2017). Now, Sam Mendes continues this cinematic journey with 1917 as he explores youth in the face of war.

From the opening scenes, 1917 surrounds the audience with breathtaking energy and emotion by embracing the ‘single shot’ style Sam Mendes used in the opening scenes of his second Bond movie, Spectre (2015). Of course, the ‘single shot’ artistic choice is nothing new in cinema, from Hitchcock’s Rope to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman. However, in using this technique in 1917, Sam Mendes created a similar sense of emotion and terror to that of Erik Poppe’s Utøya: July 22 (2018). The result engulfs the audience in a breathless journey of fear, bravery and eroding innocence, further enhanced by Roger Deakin’s stunning cinematography and Thomas Newman’s score.

George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman play Schofield and Blake, two young lance corporals ordered to complete a journey behind enemy lines. Their mission is to deliver a message to another company of soldiers poised to launch a potentially catastrophic assault. However, this is a journey fraught with risk, as both young men have to work their way through a no man’s land of towns and villages in a race against time. MacKay and Chapman are outstanding throughout, their understated performances reflecting the dying innocence of young men in the face of war. Here, the normality of their conversations is slowly warped and changed by the true horror of the conflict around them. Charles Chapman’s Blake is full of bravado and commitment while equally scared and vulnerable, while MacKay’s Scofield wears the mask of a young man who has already seen too much horror.


1917 has received minor criticisms for what some have called a World War One rollercoaster ride of a movie. However, this criticism fails to appreciate the delicate script and quiet moments of reflection and humanity inherent in Sam Mendes’ film. Here, we find casual conversations interrupted by sudden inescapable horror, from Scofield finding a young woman and child hiding in the darkness beneath a battered town to the bodies of soldiers floating down a river as the cherry blossom falls. These moments of silence and reflection highlight the true devastation of war and the mental impact of conflict on the individual. It is here where 1917 carries enormous emotional weight as we become a part of a single journey that takes us beyond the trenches of World War One and into the horror of its reach.

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Dean-Charles ChapmanGeorge MacKayDaniel Mays, Colin Firth, Andrew Scott

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