The ambitious new drama from Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes is the latest in a long line of War films which are inspired by true events, following the most recent Dunkirk. Bringing to life the story told to him by his grandfather Alfred, who was a messenger for the British on the Western Front, Mendes has created a profoundly moving and utterly immersive piece of filmmaking, proving one of this years cinematic highlights.
On 6 April 1917, during the height of World War I, two young British soldiers Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are tasked with an impossible mission. In a race against time, they must travel through the trenches, over the front lines and through No Man’s Land to deliver a message preventing the deaths of 1,600 British troops – including Blake’s brother, as they head towards a German trap.
The plot is quickly established via General Erinmore’s (Colin Firth) mission briefing to Schofield and Blake, as he delivers a brief exposition dump informing them (and us) of the British army’s desperate situation following the destruction of communication lines. Yes the narrative is a little on the thin side, but the main focus here is on the unrelenting and hellish journey that these two young men have to face, giving their all in an attempt to save a battalion of soldier’s lives.
Their perilous journey is brought to life through the incredible cinematography of Roger Deakins and Thomas Newman’s haunting and at times, unforgiving score. Thanks to the impressive, swooping camerawork, we’re completely immersed into Schofield and Blake’s mission, experiencing a barrage of set piece after set piece right there with them. Giving the impression of a one-shot throughout the whole film is no mean feat; the constant movement of the camera filled me with a sense of dread and urgency, pushing on throughout claustrophobic tunnels, bloated body strewn trenches and terrifying aerial blasts. The action is unrelenting, inducing a constant feeling of dread and prolonged suspense – particularly in one of the more haunting sequences drowned in darkness and soundtracked by deafening explosions.
George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman earnestly and impressively carry the film; you instantly connect with the everyday soldiers as they face the enormous gravitas of their task. As you’re fully immersed into their journey, you really do find yourself rooting for the underdogs throughout the trials and tribulations they face, as Mendes takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. Brief turns from Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden and Mark Strong also adds clout to the proceedings.
Sam Mendes has created a real triumph of filmmaking with 1917, painting a profoundly moving and sombre journey that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.