A First World War epic about two young British soldiers journeying across barren battlefields to alert others of an enemy ambush, 1917 is made for the big screen. This is in some part due to its audacious cinematography and single-shot action. Director Sam Mendes pulls this off with cinematic scale and like all good revivals of war it drags the audience through sheer horror – from watching a friend die to trudging past dead bloated bodies floating in a river.
The long take struggles first off, though, in the opening, with the two soldiers walking through the trenches, it feels strained and unneeded that had me doubting the excitement of the film. Once they’re trekking across the empty fields, caught under the rubble of an explosion and are fleeing from the enemy the long take sinks you into the drama and there’s no scene change for your eyes to feel like you can have a break, nor do you want one.
Young Private Schofield is the narrative vehicle for the majority of the film, played by a relatively unknown George McKay. What’s commendable is the youth of the casted soldiers, legitimising the soldier demographic as being historically accurate, as well as the ethnic diversity of extras which is often neglected in war cinema.
A particularly memorable scene follows Schofield being dragged through the currents of a river after escaping the enemy, eventually ending up back on land to the sound of a soldier singing. It allows the audience to take a breath, whilst acknowledging just what Schofield has endured. A cinematic success on all fronts, the acting, the scale, the music; the way 1917 drags you in makes it worthy of its acclaim.