The clock is ticking. Two soldiers have a message to deliver and they cannot fail. If they do thousands of lives will be lost. This relentless mission is a cinematic experience that you can’t miss.
At the height of the First World War, two young British soldiers Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are given a seemingly impossible mission. They are to deliver a message before sunrise the next morning deep in enemy territory. The repercussions if they don’t succeed? 1,600 lives. Blake’s brother is among them.
With no time to lose, the two soldiers gather their belongings and begin their journey across muddy fields and enemy lines, dodging rats and barbed wire, all the while keeping one ear open in case of attack.
The premise seems simple enough but it’s the resounding execution that pushes 1917 to be a film that needs to be experienced. With high stakes and a relentlessly ticking clock, Schofield and Blake can’t stop and we as an audience are with them every step of the way.
Much has been discussed about the one-shot style of camerawork in 1917 and, in particular, whether it’s a gimmick used by the film to simply make it stand out from the crowd. Let me answer that question firstly – it’s not a gimmick. It’s used for a reason.
For any cinema-goer, there’s a language to cinema and a style of genre conventions that we all, having watching many films before, understand. It’s why we sometimes gear ourselves up for that big scare in a horror. We can maybe sense it’s going to happen and that’s possibly down to music, editing, performance or something else entirely.
With 1917, those conventions are fully stripped back. Rather than cutting away to a different scene or moment, we’re forced as a viewer to stick with the action. In doing so, 1917 has an resounding sense of unease and unpredictability. Anything can happen at any moment. The same can be said for the two soldiers at the heart of 1917 and that’s why this style is so important. It puts the viewer alongside them. You’re with them every muddy step and every potential enemy sound in the distance. You’re part of their mission.
This method not only helps to connect you to the action but also to the emotional heart of 1917. You’re there for every glimmer of hope and every knock back. It’s heart wrenching and their journey is made all the more personal. Like me, you may feel your eyes welling up. It’s deeply impactful and, although much will be talked about the use of the visuals, this emotional surge can’t be forgotten about.
There are some wonderful supporting performances littered throughout the tense action of 1917 including Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard Madden with a real scene-stealer, but the film truly rests on the shoulders of George MacKay. It’s almost shocking to me how little attention he’s got during this Award season given the weight of his performance along with the endurance and scope he must endeavour when carrying this film. It’s astonishing.
Forget waiting for this on Netflix, 1917 is a true cinematic experience that needs to be viewed on the big screen. It’s certainly worthy of the recent Academy Award nominations and Golden Globe win for best film. We’re only a couple of weeks into the New Year and you already have another must see film for 2020.
By Jordan Barrett