Written by Ben Sanderson
1917 succeeds in everything Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk failed to achieve: portraying an immersive, heart-breaking, yet sombrely beautiful battlefield experience. It’s characterised by the soldiers whose innocent, youthful lives were at risk – all amid entertainment so raw it was impossible to take your eyes off the film.
The film follows two soldiers, Lance Corporals Schofield (George Mackay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who are given the near-impossible mission to deliver a message to the 2nd Devonshire Regiment. The message contains commands to withhold from attacking German positions at a barracks within a following 9-mile retreat- it’s set up as a trap.
And these two soldiers, neither yet 21, have to stop these regiments from a military disaster and tactical suicide. As an added incentive, one of the soldiers in the regiment is Blake’s brother.
1917 is not an emotional drama, at least not in the conventional sense. Director Sam Mendes, famous for American Beauty, Skyfall, and Spectre, has used his experience from the Bond films to convey the scene of an action-packed battlefield, and 1917 is a blockbuster. The film is based on an account from the war, told to Mendes by his grandfather, himself a messenger during the Great War.
The soldiers encounter explosions, stabbings, and bullets from German soldiers – as was, of course, the norm during World War I battles for the Allies.
Each part is entertaining – an ordeal, but only because you care for the characters and their struggles. The brief conversations, especially those between Schofield and Blake, reveal both the grim realities of war and the emotions going through the soldiers’ minds. We briefly see the innocence of Blake as he plays around on a bed, we laugh with a grimace as Blake tells of a soldier who had his ear bitten off by a rat, and we admire the comradeship the two share.
It’s a fitting tribute to all World War I soldiers, who, at very young ages, had to become warriors and learned to sacrifice everything for their brothers-in-arms- who became the most important friends they ever had in their lives.
A former boss of mine told me a true tragedy in an experience of his great-uncle’s, who, at 17, saw his best friend die in the Battle of the Somme. He suffered unimaginable trauma as a result, something also represented in 1917.
The tragedy affected both sides, with the Germans affectionately reflecting on the harsh experiences ‘Class of 1896’ faced- appropriately named after the school graduates as the majority of whom never enjoyed the privileges of life after graduation. Their experiences are looked at in All Quiet in the Western Front, another brilliant, if not dated, war film.
1917 allows the audience to access this tragic age with a new scope, and a potentially more realistic one as we understand how the soldiers must communicate with their limited words while trying to avoid impending death.
As the film takes on one of the most moving realities of the war- including starving children with no parents- we are reminded just how terrible war is. World War I, in particular, ranks as possibly the worst tragedy ever to inflict itself upon the human race, with millions of men sacrificed for no good reason. This event ended the old world of dawning industry and brought in a new, closely-connected mechanical age.
1917 is awesome from beginning to end, with its action, visual effects, and outstanding cinematography by Roger Deakins- for which it will be a crime to film if he is not awarded an OSCAR. Deakins manages to make the film look as if it is one continuous take, leaving us with an awe-inspiring visual journey. The film’s aptly assisted by great music, arranged by Thomas Newman who I also believe deserves an OSCAR.
This all earned 1917 incredible praise which it is worthy of. What 1917 achieves, though, is not best described as a moving history lesson or an immersive, blockbuster war insight, but more as a look at friendship and love.
We never know when we’ll need that the most.