The last time Sam Mendes went to war it was with Jarhead (2005), an adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s Gulf War memoir, and it was a film defined by stasis, with its battle-ready marines sinking into frustration, boredom and delirium as they waited for their promised conflict to materialise. A similar approach might have been appropriate for a film about the Great War – a war of attrition in which men spent months inching through trenches and tunnels – but instead 1917 is a work of propulsive forward motion and non-stop action.
Over the course of 24 hours, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) must escape from a collapsing trench, avoid being hit by a crashing plane, take out an unseen sniper, kill a man with his bare hands, jump into a ferocious river (which takes him over a waterfall, naturally) and race across the frontlines as shells explode around him. It’s World War I: The Ride. When giving Schofield his orders, General Erinmore (Colin Firth) quotes Rudyard Kipling – “Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone” – and the haste with which Schofield sprints through much of the film suggests he might be on to something.
Read the rest of my review on the Sight & Sound website