Directed by Sam Mendes
From 10th January 2020
Reviewed by Colin Serjent
Despite the lavish praise this film, set in France during the First World War, has received from many quarters – Mark Kermode in The Observer called it ‘an epic’ – I could use another four letter word to describe it! – I found parts of it ludicrous.
For instance, the lowly ranked British soldiers Schofield (George Mackay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are given the onerous task of delivering a hand-written message – all the telephone lines have been cut by the Germans – to Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch). It tells him that an apparent German retreat is, in reality, a trap and that two battalions of soldiers, numbering over 1600 men, are likely to be massacred if they proceed to attack them.
Schofield and Blake’s mission, spread over little more than 24 hours, sees them venture through no man’s land and abandoned German trenches.
But the farcical nature of the film begins when a house wall collapses on Schofiield after a German plane attack, covering his entire body, with Blake managing to discard the heavy debris off him. Not a single bone broken!
Even more ludicrous is when, on the same day, Schofild leaps from a high point into a fierce swirling river. Such a fall would have concussed him at least.
He then survives being shot at several time, as darkness falls, and the danger of being gunned down, as well as what has occurred to him earlier, did not seem to have any semblance of traumatic effect on him. In fact you then see him sprint like a middle distance runner in a further effort to deliver the message.
Other discrepancies within 1917 were the absence of any Welsh, Scottish or Irish accents within the ranks of the British soldiers. Also none of them looked shell-shocked, panic-stricken or malnourished.
A redeeming feature were the accurate portrayal of the French landscape destroyed by combat fighting. You see trees standing alone amid fallen ones around them. Destruction of Man and Nature.
I am not sure what director Sam Mendes was trying to portray in his film. It left me baffled.
As a youngster I used to buy second-hand photography books relating to the First World War, from the British and German perspective, from Ormskirk open market. The black & white and sepia images were gut- wrenching to look at.
Very few of these horrendous images were seldom replicated within the two hours of the film.