Celebrated director Sam Mendes has already garnered one award – a Golden Globe – for 1917. This week he received 10 Oscar nods as well. His lucid production takes viewers into the trenches of World War I, detailing the impossible mission two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (DeanCharles Chapman) are forced to undertake.
In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers – Blake’s own brother among them. The entire German army, it turns out, are in reverse mode on the Western Front. They have holed up behind the Hindenburg Line and are waiting secretly for an unsuspecting British attack that will cost the lives of 1 600 men, including Blake’s brother.
The mission of the two soldiers is to deliver a crucial message to stop the attack before morning. What keeps interest high is the manner in which Mendes, with the aid of a stellar cast, manages to marry technical expertise with an element of tension, plus a strong emotional core added to the recipe. Danger lies around each bend as the two soldiers navigate their way across the trenches, come under enemy fire, fall into a pit of rotting corpses and giant, carnivorous rats, and yet are still imbued with courage and endurance to continue a journey that may well end in death for both men.
The bigger names – Colin Firth as General Erinmore, who hands the men their mission, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Richard Madden and Andrew Scott – all have cameo roles and it’s left to MacKay and Chapman to anchor the unfolding drama – and they execute it with boldness and a keen understanding of what is expected of them. Both actors excel.
Blake is peppy and motivated by his personal stake but the more experienced Schofield is jaded and resentful about being dragged along. As their journey unfolds, a background to the two characters emerges, lending an air of credibility to the young soldiers and, with it, a degree of emotional heft. An intrinsic part of 1917 is Roger Deakin’s restless camerawork, which glides, swoops and occasionally trudges alongside those leg-weary men.
It frequently slips into shallow focus, providing viewers with a disorienting and frightening body-cam perspective of war. The script, by Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, sticks to the historical truth and exploits it to a degree that classic war films never did.
- Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Richard Madden
- Director: Sam Mendes
- Classification: 13 LV
Watch trailer below: