16th Jan2020

‘1917’ Review

by Alex Ginnelly

Stars: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Daniel Mays, Colin Firth, Pip Carter, Andy Apollo, Paul Tinto, Josef Davies, Billy Postlethwaite, Gabriel Akuwudike, Andrew Scott | Written by Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns | Directed by Sam Mendes


So much beauty in the filmmaking and technical aspects of the film. A mastery example of cinematography, editing, production design and directing, however there still feels something missing from this new war epic.

The now Oscar nominated and Globe Globe winning film, 1917, is directed by Sam Mendes. Mendes is a filmmaker best know now for his latest additions to the Bond franchise, Skyfall being his first and notably best effort, and more recently he directed the latest Bond film, Spectre. If you look back to Spectre you may remember it opens with one long take, one in which the camera moves freely through the streets of Mexico, into a building, up an elevator, out of a window and onto the roof. One has to wonder then if this was where Mendes suddenly sparked the idea to do a film in one signal take, that idea, wherever it originated has now formed into 1917. The story of two young British soldiers during the First World War, are given a mission to deliver a message calling off an attack. If they fail, 1,600 men will charge into a trap set out by the Germans, including one of the young soldiers’ brother. A race against time then commences across dangerous enemy territory, filmed in what looks like one continues shot.

This of course is not the first time we’ve seen this technique, recently we had the Alejandro G. Iñárritu film, Birdman, which like 1917, stitched together a collection of long takes to look like one continuous shot. There was also Victoria in 2015 that was one single shot, no smart editing or camera tricks but the actual real deal, a film in one single take. In 1917 however it’s more like 2 shots with an obvious cut about an hour into the film to help the passing of time, this trick leads into one of the most breathtaking one shots I’ve ever seen, as one of our leads must make his way through a French town while flares go off around him. It’s moments like this when you question if you’ve ever seen anything better on the big screen, and this accomplishment comes down to the masterful Roger Deakins. Deakins worked with Mendes for the first time in 2005 when the pair made Jarhead, they then worked together another two times before finally finding their way to 1917. It’s Rodger Deakins use of natural light that wraps you up in a spellbinding array of beauty that shows why he’s considered the best cinematographer of all time. This will of course surely win him his second Oscar, that he was just nominated for at the start of the week.

It’s here in the technical aspect of the film that is so breathtaking, however at times it also tied the film’s hands behind its back. There were moments where the technique effects the pacing of the film, some audience members may find it tedious and wish it would just cut to the next scene instead of watching the characters walk there. For me the one shot also worked against its self for another reason. There were times I found myself forgetting about the narrative structure of the film and solely focusing on the technique behind the camera, I never really became invested in the characters because I was in such awe of the technical achievement, and it’s not just me who feels that way.

The weakest aspect of the film is its character development and the narrative pacing, these are all problems that come down to the films script. The film seems so focused on its technical achievements in camera work and production design, (which is some of the very best production design in recent years) that it forgets all about story telling. For me however it still worked and I found myself enjoying some of the quiet moments the film has. There is a beautiful moment involving song and a rebirth, or baptism through blood and water of one of the characters, it was moments like this the film worked so powerfully.

George MacKay stands out yet again after his brilliant performance in the 2016 film, Captain Fantastic. The acting he showcases here is fantastic and captures the loss of innocence so powerfully. His eyes are haunting at times and really bring you into the heart of a young solider.

1917 is a film that must be seen on the big screen in order to appreciate the ground breaking work done behind the camera. The film isn’t without its faults and definitely lacks in a number of places, however there is something powerful at work here, and although it’s not my ‘best picture’ it’s a really good one.

**** 4/5

1917 is in cinemas now.

One Response to “‘1917’ Review”

  • Lindsay G H Hall

    Saw ‘1917’ a few days back in Reading. Visually, ‘spectacular’ does not describe it. But two glaring howlers, which would have not been such soloecisms in a movie otherwise so well attentive to period detail.
    (1) No British officer would have dreamt of shaking hands with a subordinate or anyone else without taking his glove off;
    (2) No Lance-corporal would salute a CO while not wearing a beret or cap—except in the Blues and Royals—but that was not Schofield’s regiment.
    It is astonishing that in a film so otherwise well-tailored these slips went unnoticed by the Director or the editorial crew.
    Lindsay G. H. Hall