1917, in my opinion, depicts the horrors of trench warfare of World War I with raw tension, terror and urgency.

What’s the plot? In short, the German Army has pulled back from a sector of the Western Front in the north of France.

General Erinmore, played by Colin Firth with the gravitas befitting the position, briefs two young British soldiers, Lance Corporals Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Will Schofield (George MacKay) on an incredibly urgent mission.

The urgent mission? British aerial reconnaissance has spotted that the Germans are not in retreat but have made a tactical withdrawal to their new Hindenburg Line, where they are waiting to overwhelm British forces. Due to the General’s inability to contact the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment before they attack the new line, charging into a trap, Blake and Schofield are ordered to hand-deliver a message calling off the planned attack and at stake are the lives of 1,600 men including Blake’s brother Lieutenant Joseph Blake.

The film wastes absolutely no time in setting the young men off on their mission, jumping right into a tense and nerve-shattering journey. The pacing is such that despite the underlying urgency, it allows moments of quiet reflection between them to make the action pieces even more impactful to the viewer. You really get a feel for who they are, which makes the subsequent plot twists even more impactful.

Essential in helping to emphasise the sheer horror of a war that cost 40 million military and civilian casualties is the environments being travelled through by the duo, if you were watching any other film you could easily believe it to post-apocalyptic landscape.

Director Sam Mendes has captured the horrors of war in gory detail. From rat infested bunkers to scores of dead bodies, it’s hard to watch and that’s largely the point. There is nothing glamorous about war.

I also thought that the use of the ‘single shot‘ was genius as it appears to help bring the viewer down to the mud and fear of trenches. I was surprised to read that this was dismissed as a gimmicky effect by professional critics, I liked it though. The effort to make the film appear to have been filmed in a single shot was made possible by 14 times Academy Award nominee cinematographer Roger Deakins.

The camera never leaves our protagonists and that’s fine because you won’t want it to.

The film does not glorify the spectacle of war, it tells the story of the sheer desperation and hopelessness of the First World War. This was summed up perfectly in a remark made by Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, Colonel Mackenzie.

“There’s only one way this war ends—last man standing.”

As mentioned above, the total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was about 40 million: estimates range from 20.5 to 22 million deaths and about 20 to 22 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

This is the only film I’ve watched in the last few years that’s stayed this fresh in my mind after leaving the cinema. The most impactful sequence for me was watching the men ‘going over the top’ while Schofield raced to find Colonel Mackenzie, you’ll hopefully see why if you watch it.

The film expertly tells the story of heroics and hopelessness. I won’t give any of the ending away so all I’ll say now is, go see the film.

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billythefish

I saw this last week under duress from my wife – my fears were realised. A thoroughly depressing movie with a poor story line.

Herodotus

Went to see 1917 last week. I can thoroughly recommend it as a visual spectacle. Not a perfect film by any means; there is some slightly weak dialogue at times and the latter action scenes are a little computer gamefish. However, an impressive and unusual film that holds your attention throughout!

Trevor

The compuer gameishness puts me off. Plus, why the the hero in the picture not wearing his helmet and proper kit, plus with a louche open necked shirt?

Herodotus

Cos he lost the lot on the journey. It is very much worth seeing though!

DaveyB

Bizarrely, it was my wife who wanted to see the film more than me. But to be brutally honest, I don’t think the film was gruesome enough, it seemed too clean, too polished. I thought it was quite toned down. However, it did put in to stark contrast those areas of no-mans land and those that had not been touched by artillery. For those that have served and been in conflict, cinema never really gets the feel right. Clearly you don’t get the smell of cordite, piss or sh*t or the aroma of dead bodies, which is an absolute blessing,… Read more »

ChariotRider

Saw this film last week with my wife. We are currently looking at going to thee Somme to find my wifes uncle – he is remembered on one of the many memorials in the area. My granddad who I knew as a child also fought on the Somme. I mention this because we were both thinking of our relatives at the time of watching. This film doesn’t pull its punches and we both left with tears in our eyes. Don’t expect to be up lifted, moved yes, but not up lifted. It is definately worth seeing and should remind us… Read more »

Ian

The review omits one fairly significant consideration: Does the plot make any sense?

Trevor

Yes, being a runner was a dangerous job. Hitler did it. But the reason for this exploit seems unreal. Are the Devonshires not going to get artillery support, a creeping barrage… have the enemy guns not been spotted, targeted and registered? I fear that the Cumberbatch line seems straight out of the prejudiced thinking of lefty luvvies artyfarty types. I could be wrong of course but the short clip I have seen seems more interested in arty, panoramic vistas. I’m not confident that it we will get the purpose and reality of 1917. I regularly get the view that film… Read more »

HF

Kubrick was lefty luvvies artyfarty type.

Trevor

Yes, he made art. And he made a brilliant film. It can indeed be regarded as possibly just an anti war film. I suppose that is a moot point. Certainly the the French banned it. Whether 1917 will last as long in the memory is indeed a moot point.

Kubrick however has a number of points to make in his films, whether you agree with them or not. One can support the nuclear deterrent for instance (as I do) but still be provoked (powerfully so) by Dr Strangelove.

HF

Fair response – being a bit of a lefty myself I bridled at the arty-farty bit, I suppose !

HF

Supposed to be based on Mendes grandad’s experiences, but it was a bit far fetched, rolled up into one film.

HF

Enjoyed the film – the scenes in no mans land were very well done. Some of the situations they found themselves in seemed unrealistic, without going into details. Did nobody think of sending the message by air, dropping it at the rear of Devonshires’ position ?

Herodotus

Good point…it wasn’t a case of either or! They could have done both!

John Clark

The same thought did occur to me, the RFC could have just dropped a message … Would have made for a very short film though! It’s a very good film though, much better than the frankly awful Dunkirk (John Mills 1958 version ‘ far superior’) and the equally dismal Fury…. Both infected with Hollywood crowd demanded action, leading to the frankly bloody stupid ‘Germans throw themselves at a Sherman and get slaughtered in the 100’s’ instead of simply go round it in Fury. Plus, the frankly ridiculous Spitfire in Dunkirk, that has unlimited ammo and shoots down Stukas with a… Read more »

Steve

I agree that the 1958 Dunkirk was far better than the recent one, even without CGI, as it told the story of the Home Front during the Phoney War with actual Lord Haw Haw recording sowing seeds of peace at any price. The recordings of the actual cartoons and actual music hall rendition of Hand Out Your Washing on the Siegfried Line are the real thing. Of course the 1958 Stuka film clips do not match current CG! but they were real. Having said that I believe the cost of making the 1958 version sent the studio bankrupt – so… Read more »

John Clark

Absolutely Steve, John Mills 1958 Dunkirk, largely based on a band stragglers trying to make it to the evacuation beaches, is still an entirely gripping and engaging film, I would encourage everyone to take a look.

After all the hype regarding last years Dunkirk film, I was very disappointed at the stupid Hollywood investor demanded “action”.

Its jarring and ruins the film….

It could quite possibly be considerably improved if you cut 15 minutes of Spitfire based fantasy nonsense out of it….

HF

Fury was ridiculous – I made the point about going round the Sherman on IMDB – the goofs section is very large !

John Clark

Quite HF,

The German forward recon elements would have eyes on the tank before the main element “stumbled” on it, simply going round it, and putting a cautionary Panzerfaust into it, to deny its use to the enemy.

James

“Did nobody think of sending the message by air, dropping it at the rear of Devonshires’ position ?”
That would have been a short movie.

snugglepuff07

Judging from the comment section, you can tell who’s seen combat and who hasn’t. The movie was incredibly well made. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s definitely worth seeing in theaters and is an achievement in film making for sure. Most of the comments of “why didn’t they do this. . .” or “why did this happen . . .” or “why did they say this. . .” you’ve never been in those situations and you can tell. A lot of those questions are answered if you paid attention to what was going.

Herodotus

Don’t remember the bit about why they didn’t back up the soldiers mission by sending a dispatch by air! I’m not sure what ‘experience’ has to with it in terms of critical analysis. How many soldiers are alive today having experienced sustained ‘trench warfare’ WW1 style?

DaveyB

You could ask the guys fighting in Ukraine. They have resorted to trench warfare as there was an agreement to stop using tanks on the front line.

Herodotus

But not WW1 style…I suspect?

DaveyB

Perhaps not, as they’re using ebay purchased drones to drop grenades on each other. Much like WW1 before the tanks got involved the fighting’s ruled by machine guns and snipers.

David Flandry

My grandfather fought in the Great War. He escaped from a makeshift German POW camp, crawled over two miles through the mud to friendly lines. No medevac choppers, no miracle drugs or treatment. I was too young to understand what he went through.