In Spring 1917 two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are given an impossible task: cross enemy lines to alert surging British forces they are walking into a trap. In the war to end all wars nothing is certain except the sacrifices that must be made to end it.

...pound for pound ‘1917’ is a film with more ambition and scale than 'Dunkirk'.

Battered and bruised by the negative reception of ‘Spectre’, ‘American Beauty’ director Sam Mendes returns with a drama that is every bit as challenging as the ordeals his characters face. Armed with arguably the best cinematographer working today, Mendes and Roger Deakins set about to tell ‘1917‘ in realtime and within the premise of a single take.

Running down weary trenches on a covert mission both messengers will meet a collection of British acting royalty as they step over convincingly dead corpses, emaciated horses and burnt sprouts of timber that once were trees. Leaving earnest Colin Firth, encountering a wonderfully matter-of-fact Mark Strong, the early surprise is Andrew Scott whose 90-odd seconds screams both shell-shocked indifference and weariness in a way these words won’t suffice.

Pushed along by Thomas Newman’s sweeping score that wisely knows when and where not to make its presence felt, the music balances the talents of Roger’s nondescript until-it-really-matters touch for lighting. Nowhere is this better shown than in a chaotic, nigh-time scramble through the carcass of what once passed for a French town. Flares and incendiary bombs believably pick out the participants in what becomes a deadly game of “whose silhouette can you trust?”

However, walking alongside’1917’ are other shadowy spectres. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’(a different war movie but shot with a similarly ambitious premise) and with the steel springs of Peter Weir’s evergreen ‘Gallipoli’ for an initial premise, ‘1917’ isn’t short of cinematic comparisons. That said, Mendes’s mission follows it’s own path. The one-shot presentation finds its target with frankly some of the most seamless camerawork you’re ever likely to see. Sure, there are a few temporal jump cuts woven into its running but ‘1917’ is the ambitious winner amongst the aforementioned field of runners. 

With two excellently judged central performances from George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, the tensions and emotions of this against-all-odds drama are in good hands. Ultimately leaning, yet not resting upon the folly of the upper classes callous taste for war, ‘1917’ is an updated acknowledgement of Terry Richardson’s ‘Charge of The Light Brigade’. When in the trenches all men are equal before the prospect of slaughter, ‘1917’ is a highly commendable movie that addresses the class divide by its shared futility of purpose.

Whilst it may not be promoted as the ‘event’ that 2017’s ‘Dunkirk’ was, pound for pound ‘1917’ is a film with more ambition and scale than has previously been brought to the screen. See it.

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