THE First World War was a conflict sewn together with horror and violence, and in Sam Mendez’ ‘1917’ the true graphic reality of the conflict is brought to life.
Filmed with one continuous camera shot, ‘1917’ takes you on a harrowing journey across the western front with two soldiers of the British Army.
Set in the days following the German retreat to the heavily fortified Hindenburg line, the film depicts the journey of Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) in their race against time to stop an attack which is doomed to fail.
Blake’s brother is one of 1600 men which are to be sent over the top and into a trap set out by the retreating German army. The tension, the fear and the abject horror of trench warfare is thrown over viewers almost from the off.
It’s graphic, but when it comes to the First World War it’s important to not shy away from this. The people involved in the conflict had no idea what was in store for them. It is therefore important for us in the 21st century, with no concept of even imagining what it was like to experience it, to have a real a depiction of the war as possible.
The film is one which is different to most about the war. Mendez shows us a side of the war which we have rarely seen before in films. A dramatic race to save hundreds of lives and periods of desolate silence.
How often are we shown an empty front line trench after a wide scale retreat? First World War films, mostly, build up to a big over the top scene, portraying the wastless sense of life as thousands get cut down by machine gun fire.
Following Blake and Schofield across miles of abandoned waste land is something which you just can’t take your eyes off.
After tragedy strikes it is left to Schofield to go it alone to get to Blake’s brother and warn off the attack. The continuous camera shot increases the intensity as he gets closer to his end goal.
A full day of trekking through to the British front-line crescendos into Schofield being forced to leave the trenches and sprint down the line, dodging advancing British soldiers and exploding German shells.
The journey comes to an end and we see Schofield collapse in sheer exhaustion. He completed a journey which saved hundreds of lives, and the hours which we follow him have truly taken their toll.
Throughout the film we come across some very familiar faces, including Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch. Despite their fleeting cameos, roles which aren’t familiar to names of their size, they play key roles. Firth and Cumberbatch appearing as the military leaders which start and finish the quest set for Schofield and Blake.
1917 is gripping. It depicts the British Army as fatigued and battle hardened after three years of attrition warfare. The German retreat and the trap which was laid out to catch the British army by surprise could have ended in the slaughter of thousands of men.
Thankfully thanks to one man, who was excellently depicted by Mendez and played by George MacKay, the efforts to save lives during a war in which so many millions were lost was fittingly portrayed on the big screen.