The last Great War related film I went to see at the Cinema before 1917 was Peter Jackson’s ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, however to me it is a documentary film and although it was a incredible experience to watch the new digitalised coloured clips and the generation of the Great War I dont class it in the same category of 1917. The last attempted interpretation of the Great War for me was the film ‘Journey’s End’ which was released in 2017, starring Sam Claflin and Paul Bettany. Based on the 1928 play written by R.C. Sherriff, For me it was a really good film. I felt personally that the film didn’t get the proper praise it deserved and I felt that had it been advertised a bit better or released nearer the awards season, it probably would have got more plaudits than it actually did. The director Saul Dibb did everything in his power to make the tension and fear of the coming German 1918 Spring offensive ooze through the screen to the audience and it worked magnificently.
1917 is a incredible, immersive, heartbreaking film. Sir Sam Mendes, (probably the second best British film director at the moment behind Christopher Nolan in my opinion) makes you (in your seat) the third person in this journey of two young soldiers who have to go beyond ‘No Man’s Land’ into the German lines to relay a very important message. The story and the mission sounds incredibly simple, but it is in the perilous journey that these young men take, as we do through life itself, that it makes you feel every human emotion possible. Every human emotion is conveyed in this film, horror, panic, bravery, sorrow, sacrifice and that also you always need to keep looking to your front. Self preservation comes at all costs. You always have to keep watching because you and the two main characters are on a extremely dangerous and extremely important mission; and you never know what’s over the next ridge, German front line trench, concrete bunker or deserted farm. People might be disappointed that there wasn’t any large firefight set-pieces in this film but there doesn’t need to be, the fear and the tension compensates for that in bounds. And I certainly jumped out of my seat on a couple of occasions. The sets were also breathtaking as well, the decaying dead in ‘no man’s land’ were as grotesque and realistic as the rats that were eating them. The imagery as well was the work of someone who knows how to draw the audience in and keep them fixed. It is Mendes’s greatest strength as a film director, and in the films I have watched him direct previously, he has never disappointed, and he still never has.
The cinematography of this film was exquisite and extremely immersive. The scene where Lance Corporal Schofield (played by George McKay) was walking through the attacking British soldiers was an absolute masterpiece of art in itself. Mendes has perfected techniques through his films such as ‘Road to Perdition’, ‘Skyfall’ and one of the last great films of the 20th Century ‘American Beauty’. It is in this film where he brings his experience and technical expertise as a film director to the fore, and it is for me a joy to behold. The opening scene of the two soldiers going into the labyrinth of the trench system was astonishing, It was also nice to see Andrew Scott (The Priest from Fleabag) playing as an Lieutenant from the York and Lancaster Regiment, who sends the two main characters ‘over the top’. (I hope i’m not wrong with the regimental badges!).
Another important element of the film was the musical score.(The Music is a essential part of any film in my opinion) Thomas Newman is an exceptional writer of film music, despite scoring most of Mendes’s great films in the past, this is his best by a mile. And it is Music in one particular scene brings so much humility, and returns humanity to a situation that nobody then truly understood. It was that scene alone that took me back to France and the wind flowing through the trees, around so many cemeteries. I have never been in a cinema where, even as the credits rolled, the audience remained in their seats and soaked in what they witnessed. Everyone left the auditorium in complete silence and to a certain extent reverence too.
This past weekend I have seen the various reactions to this film on social media by certain individuals and it was the reaction that some gave and their resistance to the film that I found upsetting. Yes there were inaccuracies, like every historical film made before and after it. Yes there were some mistakes made in certain areas. But if we look at it in a certain context, we have to (whether we like it or not) ignore the little niggly things and take things from a far larger and broader perspective. How are we going to be able to keep the general public interested in the topic or introduce future generations to what happened in the not too distant past? I hope that this film sparks a genuine interest of the Great War in the hearts of younger people. I truly hope that it does.
More importantly, I think overall that it will. Sam Mendes, you have given us through your masterful celluloid interpretation, the Great War enthusiasts of my and future generations a massive, critical and vitally important boost. I really hope that this film wins the Best Picture gong at the Academy Awards in February.
10 out of 10 for me.