Review: 1917 (2019)

1917 is a masterclass in realistic, suspenseful and immersive film making. Set at the Western Front in France during the First World War, this is a story of friendship, loyalty and honour. The film has a very personal touch and is successful in its ability to pull you in immediately, like all the best films do. The seamless editing of one-take long shots fully engulf you into a world that Sam Mendez and Roger Deakins have brilliantly created. Every moment in 1917 is an absolute feast for the senses and the experience of seeing a film like this done so well, was a memorable one.

Roger Deakins and Sam Mendes discuss shots on location during production.

The almost 2 hour film absolutely flies by as we follow two characters, Blake and Schofield, in a snapshot of what happened on one eventful day. We witness their experiences in the broad setting of the trenches and fields of the front, as these two unknown soldiers are sent with a message to call off an attack. The young soldiers are portrayed brilliantly by two rising British actors in George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman.

Rising star George MacKay plays Blake.

A who’s-who of stars appear throughout the film for brief cameos, all in positions of command within the ranks of the military brass, parallel to their positions in their careers within the film industry itself. All of the performances in the film are faultless, none more so than that of MacKay, portraying his character in such a powerful and realistic way, you feel like you are right there with him throughout.

I spy with my little eye, a big star beginning with B! Cumberbatch gives a brief but memorable turn as a benevolent and battle-scarred Colonel.

Every aspect of the cinematography in this film is absolutely phenomenal. First and foremost, the overwhelmingly impressive one-take long shots, that put us right there in real time with Blake and Schofield as they embark on their eventful journey. The compositions are so flawless, that Roger Deakins seems to achieve the impossible as the camera moves in ways that are absolutely jaw dropping. This brings such an immersive realism to the film.

Roger Deakins has had an amazing career which just keeps on getting better. 1917 is one of his best yet.

Here is a 71 year old cinematographer, who insists on being as hands-on as possible. He regularly operates the camera himself, something which is relatively unheard of, especially at this level of high-end feature films. The cinematography in 1917 is nothing short of phenomenal and Deakins’ latest addition to his extraordinarily long list of fantastic films, is nothing short of a masterstroke.

The use of lighting, and the lack thereof, in certain scenes is brilliant and is used to achieve some extremely moving and breathtaking set pieces throughout. The colours used, range from strong desolate and barren landscapes, filled with lifeless greys depicting the cold harsh realities of the aftermath of war, opposed to the visceral lush greens of untouched, peaceful land. The contrast and juxtaposition of some of the imagery throughout is so moving and thought provoking. One is given a real insight into the realities of that war through the eyes of two young soldiers as well as the countless other lives that hang on the ever changing conflicting orders from the brass.

The immersive cinematography of 1917 is an incredible achievement.

The musical score builds suspense beautifully throughout, heightening every moment and decision made by the characters, and the unrelenting pace of the film keeps you teetering on the edge of your seat. Each key moment is accompanied by a powerful soundscape, that builds so much tension, the audience is enthralled from start to finish.

1917 is a terrifically moving and emotional film, that fully immerses the viewer in the unrelenting mission that these two soldiers find themselves on. It has all the ingredients of a cinematic masterpiece. It is a beautiful story, told well. The pacing and overall feel of the film is spectacular and succeeds brilliantly at engaging the audience in a truly unique and captivating way. Anyone with a love of British cinema, war history and damn good films will want to watch it several times.

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Jack Browse
Jack is a filmmaker and writer. You can follow him on Twitter @Jack_Browse