- Anna Smith
- 6 January 2020
Sam Mendes is at the helm of an immersive and heartfelt but not entirely convincing WWI drama
Inspired by the wartime stories of his grandfather Alfred, Sam Mendes's film is clearly made with passion and sympathy for its subjects. George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman play Lance Corporals Schofield and Blake, two young Brits serving during WWI. They are charged with hand-delivering an important message to another unit – one that Blake's brother is a part of. In a set-up that recalls Saving Private Ryan, commanding officer General Erinmore (Colin Firth) underlines the import of their mission in no uncertain terms: 'If you don't get there in time, we will lose 1600 men, your brother among them.'
It's a compelling premise made more immersive due to its technical concept. Cinematographer Roger Deakins employs unusually long takes to give the feeling of one continuous shot. It's not unlike the dizzying, intense techniques used by Dunkirk cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, and yet, 1917 falls short of Dunkirk's genius.
Probably as a result of the lengthy, expansive takes, much of the dialogue feels simplistic, a problem compounded by the unconvincing delivery. It's not something you'd expect from the talented MacKay, so excellent in Pride, Captain Fantastic, How I Live Now and more. Chapman, while an equally likeable presence, fares even less well with both dialogue and accent, while there's not much time for big names like Mark Strong and Andrew Scott to impress.
What 1917 does do brilliantly is take you into the mud and misery of the trenches, offering enough camaraderie to give glimmers of hope and humanity. With more convincing and detailed characters, it could have been deeply emotionally involving. But it is still a heartfelt tribute to the sacrifices of our ancestors – a visually impressive and very respectable entry into the war film canon.
General release from Fri 10 Jan.