1917 (2019 film)

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1917
1917 (2019) Film Poster.jpeg
British theatrical release poster
Directed bySam Mendes
Produced by
Written by
Starring
Music byThomas Newman
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byLee Smith
Production
company
Distributed by
Release date
  • 4 December 2019 (2019-12-04) (London)
  • 25 December 2019 (2019-12-25) (United States)
  • 10 January 2020 (2020-01-10) (United Kingdom)
Running time
119 minutes[1]
Country
  • United Kingdom
  • United States[2]
LanguageEnglish
German
Budget$90–100 million[3][4]
Box office$384.9 million[5]

1917 is a 2019 British war film directed and produced by Sam Mendes, and written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The film stars George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, with Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch in supporting roles. It is partially inspired by stories told to Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes, about his time serving in World War I.[6] Taking place soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich, the film follows two young British soldiers who are ordered to deliver a message calling off a doomed offensive attack. This message is especially important to one of the soldiers because his brother will be part of the attack.

The project was officially announced in June 2018, with MacKay and Chapman signing on in October and the rest of the cast the following March. Filming took place from April to June 2019 in the UK, with cinematographer Roger Deakins and editor Lee Smith using long takes to have the entire film appear as two continuous shots.[7][8][9]

1917 premiered in the UK on 4 December 2019 and was released theatrically in the United States on 25 December by Universal Pictures and in the United Kingdom on 10 January 2020 by Entertainment One. The film received widespread critical praise and was a box office success, grossing $384 million worldwide.

Among its numerous accolades it received ten nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and three wins, for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Mixing. It was the last film to win the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing before the category was combined with Best Sound Editing as a single award for Best Sound.[10] The film also won Best Picture at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, 73rd BAFTA Film Awards, and PGA Awards, while Mendes won Best Director at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and DGA Awards. The film was also chosen by both the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute as one of the top ten films of 2019.[11][12]

Plot[edit]

On 6 April 1917, aerial reconnaissance has observed that the German army, which has pulled back from a sector of the Western Front in northern France, is not in retreat but has made a strategic withdrawal to the new Hindenburg Line, where they are waiting to overwhelm the British with artillery. In the British trenches, with field telephone lines cut, two young British Lance Corporals, William Schofield, a veteran of the Somme, and Tom Blake, are ordered by General Erinmore to carry a message to Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, calling off a scheduled attack the next morning that would jeopardise the lives of 1,600 men, including Blake's brother Lieutenant Joseph.

Schofield and Blake cross no man's land to reach the abandoned German trenches. In an underground barracks, they discover a tripwire set by the Germans, which is promptly triggered by a rat; the explosion almost kills Schofield, but Blake saves him, and the two escape. They arrive at an abandoned farmhouse, where a German plane is shot down in a dogfight with Allied aircraft. Schofield and Blake save the burned pilot, but the pilot stabs Blake and is shot dead by Schofield. Schofield comforts Blake as he dies, promising to complete the mission and to write to Blake's mother. Taking Blake's rings and dog tag, as well as Erinmore's letter, he is picked up by a passing British unit.

A destroyed canal bridge near Écoust-Saint-Mein prevents the British lorries from crossing, and Schofield chooses to part with them. He uses what is left of the bridge to cross alone, and comes under fire from a sniper. Exchanging shots, Schofield wounds the sniper and advances, whereupon he and the sniper shoot each other simultaneously; the sniper is killed, while Schofield is struck in the helmet and knocked out. He regains consciousness at night, and finds the town in flames. He discovers a French woman hiding with an infant. She treats his wounds, and he gives her his canned food and milk from the farm. Despite her pleas, Schofield leaves, after hearing the chimes of a nearby clock and realising that time is running out. Encountering German soldiers, he strangles one to death and escapes pursuit by jumping into a river. He is swept over a waterfall before reaching the riverbank. In the forest, he finds D Company of the 2nd Devons, which is in the last wave of the attack. As the company starts to move toward the front, Schofield tries to reach Colonel Mackenzie.

Realising that the trenches are too crowded for him to make it to Mackenzie in time, Schofield goes "over the top" and sprints on the open battlefield parallel to the British trench line, just as the infantry begins its charge. He forces his way in to meet Mackenzie, who reads the message and reluctantly calls off the attack. Schofield then finds Joseph, who was among the first wave and is bloodied but is unharmed. Schofield tells Joseph of his mission and that his brother Tom has died, passing on Tom's rings and dog tag. Joseph is deeply upset about his brother but thanks Schofield for his efforts. Schofield asks to write to their mother about Tom's heroics, to which Joseph agrees. Exhausted, Schofield sits under a nearby tree, looking at photographs of his wife and children.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Pre-production[edit]

Amblin Partners and New Republic Pictures were announced to have acquired the project in June 2018, with Sam Mendes directing, and co-writing the screenplay alongside Krysty Wilson-Cairns.[13] Tom Holland was reported to be in talks for the film in September 2018, though ultimately was not involved,[14] and in October, Roger Deakins was set to reunite with Mendes as cinematographer.[15] George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman entered negotiations to star the same month.[16] Thomas Newman was hired to compose the score in March 2019.[17] The same month, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Richard Madden, Andrew Scott, Daniel Mays, Adrian Scarborough, Jamie Parker, Nabhaan Rizwan, and Claire Duburcq joined the cast in supporting roles.[18]

Writing[edit]

In August 2019, Mendes stated, "It's the story of a messenger who has a message to carry. And that's all I can say. It lodged with me as a child, this story or this fragment and obviously I've enlarged it significantly. But it has that at its core."[19] In Time in 2020, Mendes stated that the writing involved some risk-taking: "I took a calculated gamble, and I'm pleased I did because of the energy you get just from driving forward (in the narrative), in a war that was fundamentally about paralysis and stasis." The ideas for a script, which Mendes wrote with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, came from the story that Mendes's grandfather, Alfred Mendes, a native of Trinidad who was a messenger for the British on the Western Front, had told him.[20] Mendes stated: "I felt an obligation to honour my grandfather. It's important to remember they were fighting for a free and unified Europe. Good to be reminded of that now."[21]

Filming[edit]

Roger Deakins was the cinematographer for the film, reuniting with Mendes for their fourth collaboration, having first worked together on Jarhead in 2005.[20] Filming was accomplished with long takes and elaborately choreographed moving camera shots to give the effect of two continuous takes.[7][8] Although media accounts often refer to the story as being told in only one shot,[22][23] the story cuts to black one hour and six minutes into the film, when Schofield is knocked unconscious, and fades in upon his regaining consciousness after night has fallen.[9] Mendes explained, "it was to do with the fact that I wanted the movie to go from afternoon to dusk, and then from night into dawn. I wanted it to be in two movements...I wanted to take it somewhere more like a hallucination. Somewhere more surreal, almost dream-like. And horrifying too".[7]

1917 was the first film to be shot with the Arri Alexa Mini LF digital cinema camera. Deakins wanted to use a camera with a large format image sensor, but thought that the original Alexa LF was too large and heavy to capture the intimate shots he wanted. Arri provided him with a prototype of the Mini LF two months before filming was set to begin, and two more cameras a week before.[24][25] His lenses were Arri Signature Primes, of which he used three focal lengths: a 40 mm lens for most of the film, a wider 35 mm for scenes in the tunnels and bunkers, to emphasise feelings of claustrophobia,[25] and a narrower 47 mm in the river, to lose some of the background.[26]

Filming began on 1 April 2019 and continued through June 2019 in Wiltshire, Hankley Common in Surrey and Govan, as well as at Shepperton Studios.[27][28][29][30] Concern was raised about filming on Salisbury Plain by conservationists who felt the production could disturb potentially undiscovered remains, requesting a survey before any set construction began.[31][32] Some shots required the use of as many as 500 background extras.[3]

Sections of the film were also shot near Low Force, on the River Tees, Teesdale in June 2019. The production staff had to install signs warning walkers in the area not to be alarmed at the artificial bodies and body parts strewn around the site.[33] The scenes on the river were mostly shot with a drone and the cast and crew were assisted by a local outdoor adventure provider for safety and stunts.[34]

Music[edit]

The score was composed by Thomas Newman.

Release[edit]

The film premiered on 4 December 2019 at the 2019 Royal Film Performance.[35] The film began a limited release in the United States and Canada on 25 December 2019 in eleven venues, before going wide on 10 January 2020.

The studio spent an estimated $115 million on prints and advertisements promoting the film.[36]

The movie was specially formatted for IMAX at the expanded aspect ratio of 1.9:1.

Home media[edit]

1917 was released on Digital HD on 10 March 2020 and was released on DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD Blu-ray on 24 March 2020.[37]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

1917 grossed $159.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $224.2 million in other countries, for a worldwide total of $383.4 million,[5] against a production budget of $90–100 million.[3][4] Deadline Hollywood calculated the net profit of the film to be $77 million.[36]

In the US, the film made $251,000 from 11 venues on its first day of limited release.[38] It went on to have a limited opening weekend of $570,000, and a five-day gross of $1 million, for an average of $91,636 per-venue.[39] The film would go on to make a total of $2.7 million over its 15 days of limited release. It then expanded wide on 10 January, making $14 million on its first day, including $3.25 million from Thursday night previews. It went on to gross $36.5 million for the weekend (beating the original projections of $25 million), becoming the first film to dethrone Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at the box office.[40] In its second weekend of wide release the film made $22 million (and $26.8 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday), finishing second behind newcomer Bad Boys for Life.[41] It then made $15.8 million and $7.7 million the following two weekends, remaining in second both times.[42][43] During the weekend of the Academy Awards, the film made $9.2 million.[44][45]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 89% based on 444 reviews, with an average rating of 8.37/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Hard-hitting, immersive, and an impressive technical achievement, 1917 captures the trench warfare of World War I with raw, startling immediacy."[46] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 78 out of 100 based on 57 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[47] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale, and PostTrak reported it received an average 4.5 out of 5 from viewers they surveyed, with 69% saying they would definitely recommend it.[40]

Several critics named the film among the best of 2019, including Kate Erbland of IndieWire[48] and Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter.[49] Karl Vick, writing for Time magazine, found the film to stand up favourably when compared to Stanley Kubrick's WWI film Paths of Glory, stating, "motion pictures do require a certain amount of motion, and the major accomplishment of 1917, the latest film to join the canon, may be that its makers figured out what the generals could not: a way to advance".[20] Rubin Safaya of AwardsWatch.com described the movie as "a visceral experience and visual masterclass".[50] Writing for the Hindustan Times, Rohan Naahar stated, "I can only imagine the effect 1917 will have on audiences that aren't familiar with the techniques Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins are about to unleash upon them."[51]

In his review for NPR, Justin Chang was less positive. He agreed the film was a "mind-boggling technical achievement" but did not think it was that spectacular overall, as Mendes's style with its impression of a continuous take "can be as distracting as it is immersive".[52] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film, "A carefully organized and sanitized war picture... that turns one of the most catastrophic episodes in modern times into an exercise in preening showmanship."[53] Alison Willmore of Vulture compared it unfavourably to the war film Dunkirk (2017), writing, "The artifice of the aesthetic premise overwhelms any of the film's other intentions."[54]

Top ten lists[edit]

1917 appeared on many critics' year-end top-ten lists:[55]

Accolades[edit]

1917 received ten nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards, winning for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.[86] It received three nominations at the 77th Golden Globe Awards and won two awards: for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director.[87] It also received eight nominations at the 25th Critics' Choice Awards, winning three awards, including Best Director,[88] and nine nominations at the 73rd British Academy Film Awards, winning the most awards – seven, including Best Film, Best Director and Outstanding British film.[89][90] It was chosen by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute as one of the top ten films of the year.[91][92]

Historical accuracy[edit]

British soldiers following up the Germans near Brie, March 1917

The film was inspired by Operation Alberich, a German withdrawal to new positions on the shorter and more easily defended Hindenburg Line that took place between 9 February and 20 March 1917.[93] However, the main and supporting characters all appear to be fictional.[94]

Writing in the New York Times, the playwright Cathy Tempelsman argues that the storyline offers a "dangerously misleading" picture of the war, suggesting "a concern for the sanctity of human life from the top down", whereas the reality was "an appalling indifference as the British high command sent hundreds of thousands of their young men to die". She adds that the "false heroics and filmmaking feats of wonder" serve to provide an "escape from the true carnage of the 'Great War'", and that in reality the scale of the casualties was such that the potential loss of 1,600 men would not have exacted the response portrayed in the film.[95]

The military historian Jeremy Banning wrote, "It made no sense, as the film depicts, to have some battalions nine miles beyond the former German line and others seemingly unaware of whether this line was manned... As for the assault by the Devons, no unit would attack without adequate artillery support".[96]

The film has a multiracial supporting cast, with black and Indian actors portraying British soldiers in the trenches. A number of black soldiers[97] served in the British Army (rather than colonial regiments) during World War I. The 2nd Devonshire Regiment however, was never brigaded with any West Indian or African units (it spent the war in 8th Division). Over 15,000 men from the Caribbean enlisted, including Afro-Caribbean men living in Britain, and by 1915 it was decided to group them together into a single regiment, named the British West Indies Regiment.[98][99][100] Indian Sikhs would have served in their own regiments as part of the British Indian Army, not as individuals in the ranks of British regiments and Corps. By the end of 1915, the Indian infantry formations had been withdrawn from the Western Front and sent to the Middle East.[98][101]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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