War movies are always something that has held my interest, thanks greatly to my Grandparents. This also means that I’m quite picky about how they’re produced and whether or not the story line is fact or fiction. Many would say that the topic of war in cinema has been explored from every angle and people may be hard pressed to find original stories by now. When I discovered that the story behind 1917 is only barely true – director Sam Mendes has constructed this from a fragment of information given to him by his own war veteran grandfather – I was interested to see how such minimal fact can be expanded into a film that is powerful and emotion filled; and could I walk away believing that maybe this had all actually happened?
The film opens on a field where two British soldiers Lance Corporal Blake (played by Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (played by George MacKay) are woken from an uneasy sleep told to immediately report for duty. They are then given orders to deliver a message warning of an ambush planned for a battalion of 1,600 British men, including Blake’s own brother. This sounds more like a suicide mission as they must cross over enemy lines to warn of the deadly trap, but failure to do so would result in mass casualties so they must give their all to succeed.
Right from the start, director Mendes was determined that this film look as if it was shot in one continuous take. With this being near impossible to achieve, the cast and filming crew has pulled off what can only be described as a choreographed masterpiece. Scenes were filmed in large chunks with as minimal interruption as possible. This meant that if the crew made an error, they would just keep going, as did the film crew through a mix of cameras on wires, bikes, vehicles and walking/running operators. They really have made you feel as though you are right there with the soldiers in the trenches.
The one thing that resonated with me was that even though the film is set at the peak of World War I, the main thread throughout seemed to be the human side of combat, be it good or bad. This film is brilliantly cast – with big names such as Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch also making an appearance in minor roles – but the standout performances are that of MacKay and Chapman. Wonderfully written and seamlessly edited, I am of the opinion that 1917 deserves to be held in as high regard as that of Saving Private Ryan, All Quiet on the Western Front and Platoon.
Movie Review By Sarah Bulach