1917 begins at the height of World War I, Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are given a mission: to hand-deliver a message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment calling off their planned attack on the German forces, lest 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother, fall into a deadly trap.
Based around a “fragment” of Alfred Mendes’ (Grandfather to 1917’s co-writer and director Sam Mendes) time in the First World War, this movie is shot as to appear as one continuous take. Far from being a gimmick, the technique immerses us into the environment of war, taking in the ghostly vistas while restricting our view and understanding of potential threats.
While most war movies concentrate on the strategy of battle and plot mechanisms for dramatic tension, 1917 is straight forward, akin to Saving Private Ryan, focusing on two soldiers and their mission: to traverse the war-torn French countryside to deliver a message. Any character development and/or arcs are delivered subtly, all the while keeping the British ‘stiff upper lip’, a la Dunkirk.
MacKay is a standout here. Wide-eyed looking on the verge of death himself, Schofield is also ghost-like as he ploughs forward with his mission to, come hell or high water, deliver his lifesaving message.
Verdict: 1917 is a highly effective visceral and immersive experience that concentrates on the atmosphere of war over plot and character. A fantastic achievement that has received multiple Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Original Screenplay and Cinematography.