1917: Film Review

1917 won Best Drama and Best Director for Sam Mendes at the Golden Globes on Sunday and there’s a reason for that. I honestly didn’t think it was going to win over the likes of The Irishman but I was pleasantly surprised and I hope this love continues throughout awards season.

The film is set in northern France at the height of the First World War and follows two young soldiers – Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) – who have been tasked with crossing enemy territory to deliver a warning which could save 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother.

1917 was edited to look like it was filmed in one continuous shot so the action follows the two soldiers from the moment they receive the command until the message is delivered to the correct division. It is a staggering technical achievement, and for a lot of the movie I wondered “How did they do that?!” It’s difficult enough filming super long takes in a simple drama, for example, but this war movie had so many moving parts, from actors to explosions, stunts, and props. As soon as one thing goes wrong, the team would have to redo it all over from the beginning. It sounds like a taxing film to make but it was totally worth it as it creates an immersive experience that makes you feel like you are with the soldiers every step of the way.

The production design made my jaw drop. The locations are genuinely fantastic and there are some beautiful shots. I couldn’t get over how massive No Man’s Land was, how long the trenches were and the fact they were practical sets. Watching the men traversing this terrain really helps you feel like you’re there, experiencing their journey. Cinematographer Roger Deakins needs an Oscar nomination for his work here, as does Thomas Newman for his moving score. There were times when the atmosphere was so tense that I was sat rigid, with my hand over my mouth and my heart beating fast.

I would have liked to know more about the lead characters. You get very little background about them and this was a deliberate device to make them seem like any and every soldier, but I need more information to truly connect with a character. Despite this, I still managed to care about their fate and feel moved towards the end. The action and tension build as the duo get deeper into enemy territory and at times it did feel a bit video game-like, as you’re just watching characters run around, jump into rivers and dodge bullets in cool locations. But those are my only niggles.

MacKay is terrific here. The film is physically and emotionally demanding and he gives his all. It is because of him that I cared about his character and the journey. There are plenty of big-name actors, such as Mark Strong and Colin Firth in this too, but they are in it for about five minutes each (if that). I didn’t think their inclusion was completely necessary as it took me out of the film, particularly with Benedict Cumberbatch. I was just like, “Oh, that’s Benedict Cumberbatch!” rather than paying attention to proceedings. Andrew Scott was my favourite as the Lieutenant who looks done in by war but still manages some dry humour, while Richard Madden was given a poignant scene.

1917 does have some issues – I would have liked more depth and characterisation to make the action more powerful – but it is still an impressive technical feat that shows viewers the harsh reality of war.

In cinemas from Friday 10th January 

Rating: 4.5/5

SEE ALSO: My photos from the 1917 press conference

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