On 6 April 1917, two British soldiers Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) receive orders to venture into enemy territory in northern France. In order to deliver a message that could save 1,600 of their fellow comrades.
The British have planned an imminent attack on supposedly retreating Germans, who are actually planning an ambush. One of the troops involved in the organised assault is Blake’s older brother Joseph (Richard Madden) and with that distressing revelation reverberating in Blake’s mind, the seemingly doomed pair set out of their perilous mission to halt the charge, with renewed urgency.
Snaking through the trenches, the audience feels every knock and shove and this is just a small glimpse of what’s yet to come. Presented as one continuous shot, 1917 unapologetically hurls you into the ceaseless turmoil and while heartstopping and uneasy, the unparalleled cinematography of Roger Deakins also offers quiet, haunting moments of reflection. A mesmerising inferno that first appears dreamlike soon shifts into focus, revealing the hell on Earth that is war.
With nerving-racking time constraints (intensified by Thomas Newman’s rapidly escalating score) and unbearably young protagonists, 1917 shares similarities with fellow modern war classic Dunkirk and echoes the family ties of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. While absolutely assisting in revamping Bond in recent years, with standout Skyfall and the stylish but average follow-up Spectre, it’s a joy to see director Sam Mendes step out of these confines.
Although a handful of more familiar faces fill minor roles such as Mark Strong as a wise Captain Smith, Andrew Scott as the darkly comic Lieutenant Leslie and Benedict Cumberbatch as a battle-hungry Colonel MacKenzie. It’s MacKay and Chapman at the heart of 1917 and both initially exude their youth through their friendship and ribbing, lovingly and realistically penned by Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Offering a genuinely warm and amusing reprieve before the inevitable bloodshed engulfs them. MacKay in particular almost ages on screen, revealing a world of pain behind his telling eyes.
Beyond its technical spectacle, 1917 never forgets the human cost of war.