1917  has already won a multitude of awards, including ‘Best Motion Picture’, at the Golden Globe Awards and has top pick to be the frontrunner at this year’s annual Oscars: why has this film received such high praise and critical acclaim? What is it about this film that has created a legacy of its own and has been deemed a war film like no other?

 

The film follows the journey of two soldiers, Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George Mackay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), on their mission to deliver orders across enemy lines, to call off an attack that would end in mass bloodshed and slaughter. Viewers accompany them as they embark on their quest with the fate of 1,600 men on their shoulders. With a series of unexpected twists and turns, in what seems to be a fairly simple plot, we are immersed into the intense and unpredictable action of The Great War. 

 

What heightens the tension, suspense and relentlessness of the soldiers' journey is director, Sam Mendes’ approach to the ‘single take’ appearance. The designed illusion of unbroken and consecutive movements as the protagonists face all that nature and war-fare could throw at them, magnifies the immediacy and the sheer importance that they complete their objective. Although first criticised for his choice in style of shooting, Sam Mendes defended it, saying, “we experience life in one continuous shot… it's the editing that is the gimmick” (Entertainment Weekly). The partnered direction of Mendes and cinematography of Roger Deakins allows for a gripping and at times distressing experience. We acquire an understanding of the horror, violence and tragedy of war in a way we have not seen before. The audience is allowed to create an inevitable connection and appreciation for the qualities and strength of the soldiers as we follow them through beautifully orchestrated sequences, uncovering the world as they do. 

 

The inspiration for the film comes from the stories of Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred, being aged only seventeen when enrolled. The ugliness of war left him unable to speak of it for many years. Puzzled as to why his grandfather washed his hands so frequently, Mendes discovered that it was because he felt as though he could never get the mud of the trenches off of him, (as detailed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly). Feeling able to share his stories of war, Mendes was particularly fascinated with the image of his grandfather being used to deliver messages across no-mans land. This mental picture of Alfred’s experiences paved the way and influenced the plot of 1917, of to whom the film is now dedicated. 

 

Each character and cameo superbly depict the effects of war on all men serving. Lance Corporal Blake seemingly represents the exploitation of young, innocent and good-willed men into conscription to an awaiting unknown nightmare. Mark Kermode remarked on BBC 5 Live, that George Mackay’s eyes create and capture a sense of “ the youth and the old before their time and lost before their time,” illustrating the reality that  war gravely scarred and damaged the souls and minds of many, if not all participants. Mendes continued by revealing the importance of the short but powerful appearances of the likes of Collin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch, as no matter the ranking, ’everyone… is equally lost and struggling to do the best they can.” 

 

 This film is a true cinematic achievement. It demonstrates the carnage of war; with profoundly heartrending scenes of loss and destruction. It reminds us to cherish those closest to us and to be thankful for all the scarifies made by millions, in order to keep future generations safe. 1917 is a story of the brutality as well as the courage of humans. I would urge everybody able to see this masterpiece, to do so, as it inspires all to look into the importance of World War One. Bringing a new light in comprehending the true experiences of war and how it is presented in cinema.

 

By Margot Phillipson