1917 is a thrilling, spell-binding triumph

Much has been made of the technical brilliance of Sam Mendes’s 1917. This is a film that takes place in real time, with the camera seemingly following soldiers Schofield and Blake in a single unbroken shot. It’s certainly audacious, and faultlessly done, but perhaps most impressive of all is how quickly the audience forgets all that trickery, such is the power and intensity of the story told.

George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are perfectly cast as the everymen who are sent on a near impossible mission to cross no man’s land with a message. What follows is an episodic, nightmarish journey through a hellish landscape that sits somewhere between The Walking Dead and Homer’s Odyssey. If that sounds flippant, it should be said that while the film is set during the First World War, it’s only tangentially about that terrible, pointless conflict. Rather, the film focuses on two ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances doing astonishing things. It could just as easily be some other conflict or crisis, and as such feels surprisingly timeless and relevant.

Mendes has lined up an amazing cast in support of the two leads – clever shorthand that signals we are following a small story amidst a narrative almost too huge to contemplate. Relentlessly thrilling, beautifully filmed, and buttressed by a classic Thomas Newman score, this is a spell-binding, superlative triumph.