Sam Mendes makes 1917 a First World War mission you’ll never forget

Director Sam Mendes collaborates brilliantly with cinematographer Roger Deakins once again to bring us the immersive and devastating 1917.

As a set-up for a memorable story, 1917, the new film from Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes takes some beating. On the eve of an allied attack in the penultimate year of the First World War, two young soldiers must race against time to deliver a message which will stop 1,600 troops from walking into an enemy trap. Wow. And on top of that Mendes, collaborating once again with his cinematographer from Jarhead, Revolutionary Road and Skyfall, the Oscar-winning Roger Deakins, has decided to film the story in a single shot.

Dean-Charles Chapman is Blake and George MacKay is Schofield in 1917

Dean-Charles Chapman is Blake and George MacKay is Schofield – two men on a desperate mission

Wow again and I’m absolutely watching that.

I’m also a bit of a history buff myself and a lover of the brutally beautiful poetry that emerged from World War One by the likes of Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and my personal favourite Wilfred Owen. Their poems told of the harsh and unforgiving conditions of the trenches as well as the patriotic feelings of the men who fought in northern France. I thought Mendes’ movie would mix both of these elements to a highly successful degree from the minute I saw 1917’s first trailer.

But then there’s the additional fact that the story is inspired by Mendes’ own grandfather who had served in the war when he was only 17 and carried messages across enemy lines, just as we see the two young men through whom this story is told are tasked to do. As the movie rattles along its 1 hour and 59 minutes right from the off, we meet our two soldiers in the very first frame. There’s Lance Corporal Blake, a wonderful mixture of passion and earnestness from Dean-Charles Chapman. And there’s Lance Corporal Schofield, more introverted and enigmatic, in a fantastic performance from George MacKay.

Mark Strong is Captain Smith in 1917

Mark Strong is Captain Smith, one of the incredible cameos in the film

Receiving their orders from a no-nonsense General played by Colin Firth at the top of the film not only sets the pair off on their dangerous mission but also signals the start of an incredible run of cameo and supporting performances from the very creme de la creme of British acting talent to punctuate their journey. We meet Andrew Scott, Daniel Mays, Richard McCabe and along with Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong, it reminded me of the top-flight cast Tomas Alfredson assembled for his masterful version of John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There is also an added urgency to deliver the message for Blake as his older brother (played by Richard Madden) is among the troops who will perish if they don’t succeed.

What follows is a truly immersive and heart-stopping piece of storytelling from Mendes and Deakins, as we experience everything from the perils of no-mans-land to a treacherous bombed-out town at the dead of night, lit up by flares. To reveal any more of the story would be to spoil your experience of the film but suffice it to say that its sheer scope is spectacular and the director and his cinematographer, along with that incredible cast, deserve all the accolades that will surely follow.

I really can’t recommend you watch 1917 enough – it’s just an absolute must-see.