“The first time I understood the idea of war was when my grandfather told me about his experiences in the First World War. This film is not a story about my grandfather, but rather the spirit of him—what these men went through, the sacrifices, the sense of believing in something greater than themselves.” Sam Mendes, director of 1917
From the vision of the Oscar®-winning director of Skyfall, Spectre and American Beauty, comes 1917, a hauntingly beautiful, visceral new epic inspired by the experiences of his grandfather and others who served in World War I.
1917 stars George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Daniel Mays, Adrian Scarborough, Jami Parker, Nabhaan Rizwan, Clair Duburcq, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Oscar® winner Colin Firth. 1917 is a Neal Street Production, produced in association with Mogambo, for DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment, in association with New Republic Pictures. Universal Pictures and Amblin Partners distribute internationally, with eOne distributing on behalf of Amblin in the U.K.
1917 tells the story of two young British soldiers at the height of the war, Lance Corporal Schofield (MacKay) and Lance Corporal Blake (Chapman) as they are given a seemingly impossible task. In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow soldiers—Blake’s own brother among them. In this immersive cinematic experience, Mendes thrusts the audience into the immediate peril and vast scale of World War I, witnessing the conflict in an urgent and propulsive way.
The high-stakes-mission includes the compassionate and wise Captain Smith (Strong); the war-weary Lieutenant Leslie (Scott); Lieutenant Blake, (Madden) the older brother to Lance Corporal Blake; Sergeant Sanders (Mays) who chooses Blake for the mission; Major Hepburn (Scarborough); Lieutenant Richards (Parker); Sepoy Jondalar (Rizwan) a Sikh Private; and Lauri (Buburcq) a terrified young French woman trying to survive against all odds in a war-torn French town. The officers who are the bookends to this nightmare mission are General Erinmore (Firth) who sends Schofield and Blake zig-zagging across No-Man’s Land—dodging snipers, avoiding mines, corpses of humans and animals, crumbling buildings and bridges—with the message to Colonel Mackenzie (Cumberbatch), commander of the 2nd Battalion, who is convinced he is close to winning the war and is determined to finish it.
The production values of 1917 are stellar, due to the collaborative skills of a team that includes Academy Award®-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins; Oscar®-winning production designer Dennis Gassner; makeup and hair designer Naomi Donne; Academy Award®-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran and fellow costume designer David Crossman; set decorator Lee Sandales; five-time Oscar®-nominated production sound mixer Stuart Wilson; supervising location manager Emma Pill; SFX supervisor Dominic Tuohy; prosthetics designer Tristan Versluis; stunt coordinator Benjamin Cooke; five-time Emmy Award-winning casting director Nina Gold; Academy Award®-winning editor Lee Smith; and 14-time Oscar®-nominated composer Thomas Newman. Visually, the film was nothing short of stunning, from the filthy, claustrophobic trenches, across No-Man’s Land, riddled with craters left by bombs, the decaying bodies of humans and animals, and the devastated farms and towns.
The cinematography was amazing. Mendes, who co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, had the vision of making the film appear to be one single, long, uninterrupted shot, giving the film a real-time sense of urgency as the story unfolded. The level of planning required to achieve this level of intimate intensity is mind-boggling. “Our two main characters are sent on a dangerous journey through enemy territory to deliver a vital message to save 1,600 soldiers,” Mendes explained, “and our camera never leaves them. I wanted to travel every step and breathe every breath with these boys, and cinematographer Roger Deakins and I discussed shooting 1917 in the most immersive way. We designed it to bring audiences as close as possible to their experience. It’s been the most exciting job of my career.”
Mackay and Chapman led a cast of over 500 people—there were no digital extras in this film—in portraying ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, who did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for something that was larger than themselves. 1917 achieved what Dunkirk tried but failed to accomplish. It told the smaller story of everyday unsung heroes in the midst of the massive story of the world at war, without losing either the simple humanity of the individual soldier, or the magnitude of the impact of their success or failure on the outcome of that conflict. It is a film that is worthy of multiple Oscar nominations.
From start to finish, 1917 was intense; hauntingly beautiful, hard to watch, yet I couldn’t stop watching.
1917—releasing to all theaters January 10—is rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language.