Updated: Jan 28, 2020
1917 is an utterly and overwhelmingly impressive film, deserving of its 10 Oscar nominations. It follows the journey of soldiers Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) on a journey through enemy lines. They have 8 hours to save two battalions of men from a German trap; 1600 lives including Blake's Brother (Lieutenant Joseph Blake). Despite having a similar plot to Saving Private Ryan (1998), the filming choices give it a unique twist which more than makes up for this. Sam Mendes provides us with a new take on the classic military narrative of a single man facing overwhelming and often, unbelievable odds. He achieves this, with brilliant success I might add, through the use of one continuous shot, (and 24 sneaky edits, look out for the camera panning behind the wall.) This feature length film is the first to use this technique and the result is breath-taking.
This new and original take on filming follows our two main characters closely. The camera pans all the way round seamlessly showing the horrors of war to the audience. Instead of cutting from behind one of the actors to their front, it encapsulates injured soldiers, mangled barbed wire and dead and rotting horses in a single pan. It is intimate, personal and like looking through the eyes of our heroes as they cross through scarring environments. The focus is solely on Blake and Schofield and we, as an audience, are with them every step of the way. When they run from enemy fire and their back is exposed to the camera; you know they could be shot at any moment and it is raw and terrifying to watch. The tension and excitement is incredible. I have never been transported into the film in such a way. There is no way to know where the soldiers on the ground lie, everything hinges on a single moment and shot within the film. It is heart-stopping. This way of shooting makes the film so dynamic, the pace of the scenes vary from action to borderline horror but all have this incredible brilliance in how they were captured and put together.
George MacKay (Schofield) performed brilliantly conveying emotion and character despite having few lines, his facial expressions alone told the story of his harrowing journey. The way he moves and the expressions on his face emphasise what he is thinking and feeling. He is a standout performer. The appearance of Benedict Cumberbatch (Colonel MacKenzie), Colin Firth (General Erinmore) and Andrew Scott (Lieutenant Leslie) for about 2 minutes each certainly did not detract from the brilliance of the young George MacKay. It reflected upon the journey of one man through a turbulent front line in 1917, whose mission and life can be affected by the decision of a superior in a single moment. This was not an ensemble cast piece with headline actors dominating but instead an individual and personal characters journey.
This is probably one of the best war films I have watched since Saving Private Ryan (1998). It tells a personal and touching story; the audience is immersed in the characters' experience through the raw emotions conveyed in MacKay's brilliant performance. The film asks you to read into the actions of the characters and pick up the details yourself, his facial expressions and body language make this easy and add depth to the performance. It feels human and most importantly real, especially as it is loosely based off stories in Sam Mendes' Grandad's journals. 1917 is a tense and hard watch, but it will draw you in and leave you feeling amazed. The 2 and a half hours fly by. The nominations it has picked up for the Oscars, (best director and best picture especially,) are completely deserved.