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‘1917’ by Sam Mendes: a Review

It was one of the best films of 2019, and an early frontrunner for Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards. 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, is a visual masterpiece, that exposes the stark reality of war, whilst keeping the story relatively simple. The themes in the film are not just a depiction of the horrors of World War One, also referred to as the Great War, but the audience may associate them with conflicts in their lives.

The film begins as World War One enters its final years, when two British soldiers are given seemingly impossible orders. Lance Corporals Tom Blake and William Schofield are told to cross no-man’s land to save the lives of 1,600 British soldiers, including that of Blake’s brother.

Sam Mendes (Spectre, 2015) beautifully directs the film, with a clear stamp on realism and the harsh and brutal nature of conflict. 1917 was shot to appear as if it was just one long, continuous take. This is done perfectly, giving the film an extra sense of realism. You feel as if you’re experiencing the emotions of the characters, and you’re constantly feeling that something disastrous is about to happen.

The film has multiple themes that are present throughout, being destroyed innocence, bravery and loss. The Great War is filled with atrocities, and we often see similar events take place in modern conflicts. World War One took such a toll on humanity as a conflict of that magnitude had not been seen before.

The Great War introduced the world to the horrors of artillery barges, wholesale slaughter and unwavering machine gun fire. The War swiftly destroyed the innocence of an entire generation and it is hard to say that they ever truly recovered.

Two soldiers are given orders from a General, to complete a seemingly impossible impossible task. As the General was handing down the orders to Blake and Schofield, he says,

“Make sure there are witnesses. Some men just want the fight.”

This quote tells the audience that there were Generals who would have continued, despite the fact that a large number of lives will almost certainly be lost. The quote, coupled with the actions of many superior officers throughout the film, clearly demonstrate a distinct and corrupted hierarchy in the army, one that seemingly did not care about the lives of those under their command.

Bravery is another key theme present throughout. The whole film is centered around the bravery of Blake and Schofield. There’s a scene where the pair are seemingly trapped in a collapsing trench, only for Blake to pull his comrade out and save his life. At one point, Blake attempts to save a German soldier only to be killed. Regardless, he died a hero. Schofield continues on with the mission, risking his own life to save thousands.

Overall, 1917 is well directed by Sam Mendes. Through its excellent technical work, it gives the audience a raw sense of realism and gives just an idea as to what horrors were experienced by those who fought.

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