Look Sharp. See 1917.

17th January 2020


There is no time to spare. If an order is not delivered there will be a massacre. If a mission is not completed a brother will die. If we, the viewers, are not fully steeped in the stench of war, we may not get the point of peace.

Quick. Drop your weekend plans. Go see 1917. 

It will take you 119 minutes. Which seems the length of time it took Sam Mendes and Roger Deakin to shoot it. As in, this goddam film has no edits. None. 

But I get ahead of myself. I’m flustered.

There is no time to think. 

It’s a movie of two crescendos. First, the suffering of a young soldier who no longer wants to go home on leave, because it’s too upsetting to return to the….

George MacKay, embodying Lance Corporal Will Schofield, cannot finish whatever sentence he is formulating. In the silence of a gagged voice, thin lips trembling, the heartache of war is worn. 

Towards the end, the other big moment occurs.

Deakin’s camera rotates around the action, capturing most of a circle’s 360 degrees. It is a handshake between men – an acknowledgement of a mission of sorts, sort of completed. 

I have never cried at the sight of a handshake before. 

The cliché of trench warfare is a brownish grey reality that stretches forever, in 1917. Our two heroes, Lance Corporal Schofield and his Lance Corporal buddy, pass a sea of British soldiers warming themselves with potbelly fires and semi-conscious dreams, in the unsettled cold of Spring. 

The tension rises again, and the Tommies march down, deep into their final trench. Confusingly, the trench is all white, from sump to parapet. For a moment, I assume it is snow.

Then I realise it is the white chalk of this craven landscape. The eyes widen in realisation. It is a tragic vision, this blanched inversion of the Cliffs of Dover. Instead of a welcome back to Blighty, the boys march towards Beelzebub. 

But halt the whimsy.

There’s no time to think. Around every corner, tension. Then more tension. And between it all, the petals of poetry. The rhyming language of milk. The Boschs are more disciplined than Tommy. More ordered. They build trenches in a more prolific manner. Even their rats are bigger. 

Look sharp. A trip wire here. A water plunge there. All the time, festering death and an urgency that makes you fully alive. 

An order must be delivered. 

Here it is. 

Go see 1917. 

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