“Time is the enemy”, spelt out in bold letters for you to read, otherwise conveyed by the relentless ticking in the background when the trailer plays. I couldn’t have possibly been the only person to be reminded of Christopher Nolan’s superb war drama, ‘Dunkirk’, that was scored by Hans Zimmer along eerily similar lines, with Nolan’s own pocket watch’s ticking recorded on the actual soundtrack of the film to portray the urgency of the war.
Yet still, despite the obvious glaring similarities in the trailers, Sam Mendes’ latest directorial after ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Spectre’, ‘1917’, does manage to get me sufficiently interested to write this piece. One of the other major reasons that gets me hyped up for the film is the remarkably low number of films that have been made on the subject of the First World War, which, compared to the Second World War is but a faint figure only. As a testament to what I am saying, we do have our fill of the annual World War II epic too directed by Roland Emmerich, ‘Midway’, based on the battle of the same. But more on that later. For now, we traverse to across the British line of control to see what ‘1917’ is about.
1917 Plot: What Is It About?
The film is going to serve as Mendes’ screenwriting debut, and Mendes found part of his inspiration to the story for ‘1917’ from an account of the same war narrated by his paternal grandfather to him. The official years the First World War lasted are from 1914-1918, so it is a given that the film places us in the thick of it, at the peak of the war. The plot, as clearly dictated by the trailer too, involves two young British soldiers, Schofeld and Blake, who are charged with a seemingly impossible mission. The two are to carry and deliver a message in a race against time into enemy territory, to a British Batallion fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres, warning them of an ambush, a deadly trap that they’d be walking into; one that could lead to a loss of the lives of 1600 men. “Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow’s attack. If you don’t, we will lose 1,600 men, your brother among them.”
During the briefing, Blake is told that the battalion of 1600 men also included his own brother, raising the personal stakes for him. While it is clearly stated that time is their enemy at the given hour, the duo clearly have so much more to face before they can deliver the message on which the lives of these soldiers depend. Blake and Schofeld are seen traversing difficult terrain, engaging in gun combat, making their way through near death situations, and as the theme of several war movies conveys, doing the most important thing of all: surviving.
The film promises to significantly focus upon the intense trench warfare that the First World War came to be known for, as opposed to the relatively sophisticated warfare of the Second World War, including aerial combat. As would also be visible from the tightly constructed trailer, the quintessential British men, Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth are seen playing commanding officers, doing much of the heavy lifting in terms of dialogue delivery and inspiring war sermons. “There is only one way this war ends, last man standing”, says Cumberbatch’s yet unnamed character. A particularly churning shot from the trailer is of a soldier trying to make his through by swimming through the bodies of several other men, followed by one of another soldier coursing his way through lines of his comrades in narrow trench no wider than 3 feet.
The unmistakable craft and the tension during and preceding perilous times that is usually required to make movies of this nature work all seem to be there, and in deft hands too, but the sheer volume of war dramas we have seen in our times already, and a fair share of excellent ones if I might add, stands to threaten how this movie is received. Nonetheless, this is Sam Mendes we are talking about. With the exception of ‘Spectre’, and this is subject to individual opinion, I haven’t found any of his works to be mediocre. The wait stands thin.
1917 Cast: Who Is In It?
Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth are both definitely going to be the high selling points of the film, but it seems like two other men are going to be receiving top billing for this: George MacKay as Pvt. Schofield and Dean-Charles Chapman as Pvt. Blake. Mark Strong in a yet unnamed role, Andrew Scott as Lt. Leslie, and Richard Madden as Lt. Blake have also been cast in prominent roles in this British war drama. Other than these, Daniel Mays, Adrian Scarborough as Major Hepburn, Jamie Parker, Nabhaan Rizwan, Daniel McMillon and George Verrall will be appearing in the film in supporting roles.
1917 Crew: Who Is Behind It?
As stated above, apart from directing the film, Sam Mendes would also be penning the script and screenplay for the film, along with Krysty Wilson-Cairns in what is going to be Mendes’ screenwriting debut. Two other aspects of the film that I am really hopeful will escalate the film to another level altogether are going to be Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Thomas Newman’s score. Both of these stalwarts have earlier worked with Mendes on several occasions, the most notable among them being a personal favourite, ‘Revolutionary Road’. Straying a little off topic, but Newman’s immensely beautiful piano theme for the film haunts me to this day.
Another interesting addition to the impressive line-up here is Oscar winner Lee Smith, who won the golden lady for editing Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’. Again, the similarities here are uncanny, but if we can get a respectable war epic along the same lines, we should be the last ones complaining, especially given how most of the franchise properties failed to bring audiences to the theatres in a lackluster summer season ruled by Disney. Despite everything, Mendes has managed to put together an immensely talented row of technicians here, and I can see potential Oscar nominations, at least in the technical categories from a mile away here.
1917 Release Date: When Will It Premiere?
The film is all set to receive a limited release on Christmas day this year, 25th December, 2019 and will be widely globally released on 10th January, 2020. This is going to be an original release for Universal and Dreamworks SKG after several franchise releases earlier this year.
Check out the tense, nerve wracking trailer of the intense World War I drama, here.