1917 (Cert TBC)
Last year’s remarkable documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, a treasure trove of original but newly- colourised First World War footage, showed that no big-screen dramatisation of trench warfare would ever be quite right, for one striking if prosaic reason: In real life, soldiers’ teeth, almost without exception, were terrible.
In every other respect, however, the audience at last night’s Royal Film Performance was propelled back to the Western Front with the same extraordinary, visceral power, such is the skill of Sam Mendes as a film-maker and the bold simplicity of his story.
Bold, because he resists the temptation to introduce layers of plot or characterisation. He even resists the temptation to tell us anew what, thanks to all those familiar animal metaphors, we already know – that our brave boys are lions led by donkeys, going like lambs to the slaughter.
George MacKay stars as Schofield, a corporal with an epic mission, in a new war-time film 1917, and reminder that most war heroes come from the ranks
Instead, this is an account of a perilous but straightforward mission, by a pair of lance corporals handed the challenge of delivering a message intended to save the lives of 1,600 men.
To do so, they must cross battle-ravaged no-man’s land and the Germans’ abandoned front line, at immense personal risk.
It is a fictionalised tale, but inspired by stories told to the director by his late grandfather, Alfred Mendes, who was awarded a Military Medal for bravery during the 1917 Battle of Poelcappelle and to whom the film is dedicated.
The film centres around two young British soldiers during the First World War who are given the mission of delivering a message, deep in enemy territory, that will stop one of their own brother's from walking into a trap. Both main protagonists show a fierce instinct to survive and pass on the message to save 1,600 men
So this is an intensely personal project. However, Mendes would be the first to concede his debt to veteran British cinematographer Roger Deakins, who won an Academy Award for depicting the future in Blade Runner 2049 and is a strong contender for another – for evoking the past.
He takes us with these men on their harrowing journey by filming in