“Blake, pick a man, bring a kit,” 

That’s all it took to set the plot moving. Set in the front lines between Germany and England during WW1, 1917 revolves around 2 soldiers who were tasked to cross No Man’s Land. Sam Mendes’ 1917 is not the first war film in recent years, but it shows a whole new perspective with its ‘one-shot’ format.

Source: Universal Pictures

The film starts with Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) resting against a tree. “Blake, pick a man, bring a kit,” he was commanded. Along with Lance Corporal Schofield (George Mackay), they were ordered to deliver a message to the 2nd Battalion to call off an attack. Otherwise, 1,600 lives would be lost. The only route was through No Man’s Land, which Schofield was skeptical to cross despite being reassured by the General that the Germans had already abandoned their frontline.

Source: The Ringer

Award Recipient for ‘Best Cinematography’ in the 2020 Oscars, 1917 was filmed with the illusion in one shot. Through precise shooting and crafty editing, the movie was actually filmed in multiple shots and pieced together seamlessly. An example of a transition point was the scene where Schofield jumped off the waterfall.

Source: NY Times

1917 wasn’t the first ‘one-shot’ film in history. However, the boundaries were pushed even further through the continuous action and the constantly changing terrains, which could only be achieved through extensive planning. For instance, during an interview with Mendes, he claimed that the length of the trenches were built based on the time it took for the actors to walk through, and all the sets were only built after multiple rehearsals. Furthermore, this captures the raw emotions of the actors, as the immersive war setting develops over time.

Ironically, the most powerful scene was not the explosions, the relentless chase, but the choir of a lone soldier. As Schofield crawled out of the river bank into the melodic tune of “Wayfaring Stranger”, bringing an abrupt pause to the film. It was the first moment of tranquility since his journey began. 

Source: Quartz

The film, unpretentious, painted a picture of the bravery, despondency and hope of the soldiers who fought bravely during WW1. From the group of traumatized troopers who had given up, to the fighters who longed to return home before the holidays. ‘Hope is a dangerous weapon,’ Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) said.

In an interview with writer Kristy Wilson-Cairns, she mentioned that Blake’s death had to be included to paint the whole picture. Either Blake or Schofield had to be killed off to accurately represent the toll of the war. 

“We chose Blake because so many idealistic young men signed up for that war, to fight for king and country, to fight for some idea of glory. It’s that idea. And they drowned in mud, you know? They died in horrible, horrific ways over nothing.”

Kristy Wilson-Cairns

About Author