Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
Summary: During World War I, two British soldiers – Lance Cpl. Schofield and Lance Cpl. Blake – receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades – including Blake’s own brother.
I don’t like war movies, never have. They usually play one of two ways - an effects-heavy love ballad to gore and violence or a hearty tale of brotherhood among men who can’t wait to talk about the girls waiting back home. The ones that focus more on fact over fiction will hold my attention a little longer, but my historical interests tend to skew towards the royal court of Henry the Eighth. So no, I don’t like war movies and I didn’t like 1917. I loved it.
The story follows two British soldiers during the first world war and their journey across hostile territory to pass on a message that will save hundreds of lives - if they make it. Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones’ Tommen Baratheon) and Schofield, played by George MacKay (Hamlet in the 2018 film Ophelia, which I only recently learned about and is now on my watchlist) are quickly likable and their easy, youthful friendship gives the movie a light start. Unfortunately, movies that attach you to the main characters so quickly tend to immediately send them into danger and 1917 is no exception.
Schofield and Blake are called to see the general who informs them that there is an attack planned for the next morning that needs to be stopped. Turns out the Germans weren’t really retreating, they were luring the British into a trap and if the attack goes on, all 1,600 men will die. Unfortunately, the phone lines have been cut and they can’t call them, so the only way to warn them is by a hand-delivered letter. This is where Blake comes in - with his expert navigation skills, he should be able to make his way past the German front lines and to the camp of the 2nd battalion. In case orders aren’t enough, the stakes are made even more personal when it is revealed his brother is one of the 1,600 men.
They set off on their journey and we’re quickly - too quickly - exposed to the horrors of war. The devastation is immediate as we are first introduced to the wounded, and then to the dead. As the pair begin their trek across no man’s land, we see horrors that no man should ever have to witness and with each devastating visual, you are reminded that this isn’t just a movie - this is someone’s past, someone’s memory.
Though the story is a work of fiction, it is in fact based in some reality - director Sam Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred Mendes went on his own life-threatening journey across no man’s land in his time serving during World War I. These tales of war first relayed to Mendes in his childhood, stayed with him, eventually inspiring the creation of 1917.
And what a creation it is. Emotionally charged from start to finish, it’s hard to not judge this movie from such a personal perspective. Beyond just being visually stunning, it’s the way the visuals are presented that takes it to the next level - the entire thing is made to look like one continuous take.
I will admit, I was skeptical about the idea when I first heard what they were doing, but within minutes of the movie starting, I was hooked. Something happens when a movie unfolds in “real-time” and in such close proximity - you become a part of it. You’re no longer watching two soldiers delivering a message during a war. You are the third soldier, a silent partner on a dangerous mission. There isn’t that detached feeling of an observer, your emotions are heightened because you’re experiencing it with them - the fear, the anxiety, the sadness, the determination. I will say this again and again - movies aren’t just meant to be watched, they’re meant to be felt and 1917 does this brilliantly.
There is so much to like about the movie - the actors, the music, the story, the sheer artistry of it all - but it’s the emotional core that gives it such a high place in my heart and my rating scale. This is more than just a war film - this is a story of humanity, determination, loyalty, and friendship. It’s a harsh but necessary reminder of the cost of war, a hope that we can be better than we were before. It’s a testament to the bond between a grandson and grandfather. It is a truly wonderful piece of art, the kind of movie that awards are made for. The stunning package is just the pretty ribbon attached to the medal.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Sexual Content: references to sexual acts
Violence: graphic and explicit