1917’s spirit is about showing strength in the face of adversity – but how that message is delivered removes any triteness. The film puts a personal face, in two young lance corporals, to warfare. 1917 isn’t about spraying you with blood, and dwelling overtly on the horrors of war… but they’re certainly there in decay, death and desperation. Its resistance to complication also allows the story to speak for itself.
The tension and stakes run high: 1,600 lives depend on Blake (Chapman) and Schofield (Mackay) hand-delivering a message across no man’s land and beyond the abandoned German front line, instructing the halting of a planned attack. Throughout, 1917 never flinches from the fact that boots on the ground, almost three years in, were often desperately young.
George Mackay is heart-clenching as Schofield – stand back as his career soars – but he’s surrounded by stellar performances. The entire cast deliver, with special mentions for Andrew Scott’s dark flair and the reassurance of Mark Strong. The film’s dialogue is also well-shaped and sparing, and it rings true with its dashes of gallows humour.
Roger Deakins’ much-lauded cinematography earns its praise, edited into a continuous shot throughout the film (bar one obvious interlude). By focusing solely on Blake and Schofield, it provides intimacy and focus to a sprawling conflict, as well as pace. There’s beautiful work with flickering light from flares and flames in a night attack, during a sequence that also highlights how Thomas Newman’s soundtrack offers heart – quite literally – to the film’s atmosphere.
The impact of 1917 – in all senses – is clear on the screen, but the fact it’s partially based on recollections from director Mendes’ grandfather adds another wallop. It’s a searing, moving film that doesn’t have to shout or clamour to get the attention its simplicity and artistry quite justly deserves.
CAST: Dean-Charles Chapman, George Mackay, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Daniel Mays, Richard Madden, Adrian Scarborough
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
WRITERS: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
SYNOPSIS: Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop two battalions, and one of the soldiers’ brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.