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Have you seen...? 1917

Words by Rob Chilton

EDGAR watched the new World War I epic by director Sam Mendes and is still reeling from the experience

Intense. Terrifying. Gory. Loud. Immersive. Heartbreaking.

These were the few words EDGAR managed to mumble to our companion as we stumbled out of the cinema after watching Sam Mendes’ epic new movie 1917. Full sentences weren’t able to be formed until we reached the car park.

The World War I movie, which recently won Golden Globes for film and director and will surely win big at the Oscars, follows two young British soldiers on a nail-biting trek through the German front line and into no-man’s land to deliver a message and call off a doomed attack that will save 1,600 lives. Mendes calls it a “ticking clock thriller.”

George MacKay plays Schofield in 1917

George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman play the lead characters; MacKay especially is brilliant and has a haunted face that you cannot take your eyes off. In what will be a career-defining role, MacKay swims, runs, jumps and shoots his way through the draining two-hour film.

There are cameos from Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, Andrew Scott and the always-brilliant Mark Strong. Scott as the sardonic front line commander, however, tops the lot in a sequence that leads us into the trenches where soldiers waiting for their orders in tin hats and wrapped in ponchos appear to be embedded in the mud.

Mark Strong

As you might expect from a World War I movie, a lot of the action takes place in trenches lined with barbed wire and wasteground dotted with bomb craters. But the film also visits farmhouses, green fields, rivers and bombed-out villages to create a strong sense of forward motion, which adds to the tension. At times, the film looks and feels so empty, as if there is nobody else in the world, just Schofield and Blake on their breathless mission.

Blake and Schofield in the trench

As well as being emotionally devastating, 1917 is earning huge praise for its technical achievements. The movie is shot in several unbroken sequences, which are stitched together. There are no cuts from actor to actor in a conversation, for example. Using lightweight cameras held by operators on foot, suspended from a crane, or on the back of a motorbike or car, viewers are alongside the cast to see the horror and detail close up. See it in IMAX, as EDGAR did, and the movie is bewilderingly immersive.

Mendes talks his actors through the shot

For such a difficult task, Mendes called in legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins to coordinate the labyrinthine set pieces and capture the chaotic horror of war. The sound of gunfire and artillery is shockingly loud and frightening – even the sound of army boots splashing through puddles plunges the audience into the scene.

Roger Deakins with Mendes

While most definitely an experience movie of huge scale, 1917 also has the emotional power that will stay with the viewer long after the final scene.

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