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1917: Mission improbable, movie-making incomparable


SUNDAY’S Baftas may have been a squirm-inducing luvvie wokefest, but at least they got the top award right – 1917 is a superb film.

Many will find the plotline (two lance corporals legging it across the battlefield to warn a colonel he and his 1,600 Tommies are being lured into a German trap) highly problematical, even though director Sam Mendes says it was inspired by his grandfather’s wartime experiences.

But that becomes a minor niggle, because you are quickly swept up and absorbed by the breathtaking action scenes, the grisly authenticity of the shell-blasted, corpse-strewn, rat-infested battlefield and the selfless courage and comradeship of the poor squaddies.

Much has been made of the film being shot as one continuous scene. You are hardly aware of this after a while, but it adds brilliantly to its breathless pace and relentless drive.

There is such a lot to like. But to me one of the most praiseworthy aspects is the attention to detail (although military buffs will undoubtedly find some fault or other). For instance, someone has done an excellent job of kitting out the soldiers.

You can almost feel their gritty, itchy tunics, and are weighed down with them as they slither through the mud, hung like Christmas trees with ammunition pouches, grenades, water bottles, iron rations, first aid kits and flare guns, all the while hauling their clunking great Lee Enfield rifles.

There are lots of good lines. The best is from Benedict Cumberbatch’s death-or-glory colonel as he grudgingly acknowledges that one of the heroic NCOs has saved his battalion from annihilation.

Is he grateful? Not one bit. Instead, he looks down his nose at the dishevelled, bloodied figure who has just been to Hell and back and – in words that may well sum up everything you need to know about the Great War – tells him: ‘Now f*** off, lance corporal.’

Highly recommended.

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Henry Getley
Henry Getley
Henry Getley is a freelance journalist.

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