Review for ‘1917’ — dir. Sam Mendes

Ben Winnell
3 min readMay 6, 2021


George MacKay as Lance Corporal Will Schofield

James Bond director, Sam Mendes, has attacked screens with yet another war film. But this time he only has one camera.

On April 6, 1917, two young British soldiers must deliver orders to the front line ordering that a forward assault be cancelled so as to prevent a massacre. There’s just one problem; they must cross the German front line to get there.

As we observe an endless series of centennial anniversaries surrounding the First World War, so too are we assaulted with films from that era. Fortunately, this tired genre has received a much-needed adrenaline shot in the form us 1917.

While ‘one shot take’ films are far from new, it’s always a headline grabber when a director pits themselves against such an artistic challenge. Fortunately for Mendes, the risk has paid off. The film comprises of two neatly spaced out continuous takes that neatly chop the film into two distinct acts. More than that, they give the picture a sense of scale like no other film in recent memory. A continuous take can make a film more technically impressive, sure, but 1917 elevates the challenge and gives it a purpose. We are show a literal step by step journey of the two soldier’s quest with essentially no gap, no time-skip and no room for the audience to take a breath. Immersion is Mendes’s bread and butter for this ride.

The film is sprinkled with tastefully short cameos of renown British actors whose presence lends authority to their military rank and to the film. Otherwise, it is mostly filed with an unremarkable cast (unknown soldier anyone?). Their brief presence leaves no mistakes to be made this this is a journey for our two low-key protagonists.

Not often said of war films that are usually grim and grey as is appropriate; 1917 is a beautiful looking film. The sets are varied and immaculately detailed. The scenery truly pops with vibrant earth tones that are not lost in an endless mesh of grey on grey like so many others of the genre.

The soundtrack, by renowned American composer Thomas Newman, is of course spectacular but the true audible achievement of the film is the use of sound to create and contextualize tension. Moments of near silence fill the cinema with dread followed by adrenaline pumping tunes that remind you that this is indeed a war film of epic proportions.

The tension, however, is never uncomfortable and does not detract from the watching experience. It is just as tense at it should be. With moments of raw emotion amongst the fury of battle, this is no mere spectacle of explosions with rush into gunfire, but a tonally balanced drama that pulls on a striking variety of feelings, all reinforced by believable and measured performances.

I’ve said in the recent past that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is the quintessential British war film; 1917 however may just take the cake in terms of quality and technical achievement. It is one of the best films of 2019, of that I have no doubt and is a refreshing take on an all too tried genre.

Watch this film.


Ben Winnell

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Ben Winnell

Melbourne based writer