21st May2020

‘1917’ Blu-ray Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: George MacKay, Dean Charles-Chapman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Pip Carter, Andy Apollo, Billy Postlethwaite, Paul Tinto | Written by Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns | Directed by Sam Mendes

The first World War (WW1) has been a topic that has gone largely under explored in the world of cinema (Legends of the Fall, anyone?). I suspect this is to do the complicated nature of the war, the difficulty of spinning a narrative in this hugely complex picture and the lack of an obvious bad guy. The war was an awful, and largely pointless loss of life and treasure that reshaped the world and was the main cause World War 2. As far as “satisfying resolutions go” this is right up there with calling a game “Final Fantasy 11… we promise this is the “Final, Final Fantasy this time”. Much better to knock out another WW2 film, where the Nazis are so clearly the baddies and the Americans so clearly the goodies.

Unlike World War 2, the Germans had a fair chance to win WW1 war pretty much right up to the end, whereas in the WW2 after 1941 we knew millions more people would have to die but the outcome was not in realistic doubt. Towards the end of the war the Germans were still launching “Operation Michael” and trying to land a knockout blow on the Western Allies.
So, in 1917, when our film is set, the war was not a done deal. Here we pick up with 2 men who are being sent with a message across land that the Germans have recently pulled back from (a real, historical thing) to cancel an attack which will condemn 1600 men to their doom.

The film gives the impression of being one long take and does an outstanding job of giving us the feel for the appalling horrors of Passchendaele. Where 1917 gets it completely right, is to focus on one personal tragedy, surrounded by the madness and maelstrom of endless other tragedies. This is not a war film, much like Dunkirk, it is a disaster film. Trying to tell the WW1 experience as a Saving Private Ryan would be a mistake, the mud of Flanders was an appalling trauma, not a glorious gun fight.

This could be the Western Front, companion piece to the Aussie Epic Gallipoli but it also reminds me of the Soviet WW2 film Come and See. A film that captures the madness and trauma of the Eastern Front to an uncomfortable degree. The arc of 1917 is both terrible, beautiful, satisfying and unsatisfying, all at the same time. Given the subject material, this is brilliant.

Superbly acted, masterfully shot (by director Sam Mendes) with first-class sound design and music. 1917 is a film I will show my son, if he ever gets the idea that war is something that looks fun. This is a pure expression of why film making is such an important medium. The old, black and white and too fast film footage of men with strange facial hair sternly doing their duty can only go so far to showing future generations quite how terrible this war was, Sam Mendes has made it crystal clear.

Blu-ray Bonus Features:

  • The Weight Of The World: Sam Mendes
  • Allied Forces: Making 1917
  • The Score Of 1917
  • Feature Commentaries
  • In The Trenches
  • Recreating History

1917 is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD from Universal Pictures.

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