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  • Bruce Klein

"1917": A Valiant Warrior on a Mission


1917 is about a reluctant hero and his journey to deliver a message to the front line. Along the way, he faces threats and danger. Lance Corporal Schofield (George Mac Kaye) is a soldier who found great bravery within. He did not expect to complete an important mission on his own but became a stand-in for his friend Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman).


Based on true stories, the movie is exciting and convincing. An excellent documentary about WWI released in 2018, They Shall Not Grow Old, uses actual movie footage and sets the stage for 1917. It’s as if the characters in 1917, stepped out of the war footage of They Shall Not Grow Old and into a story about one mission in the war.


World War I was almost hand-to-hand combat. Troops were in trenches in the field waiting for the battle to begin. Within the trenches they ate, slept and socialized, and often died. The tide of the war was slow going. Territory was won and lost. It was not unusual that territory once gained was lost and territory lost was regained. At times, the armies felt as if they were going nowhere and in the end, 10 million soldiers were killed.


Lance Corporal Blake is chosen to undertake a mission. He elects his friend, Schofield, to accompany him. Their orders are to go forward to Company D’s leader Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), and tell him not to attack because the German’s have set a trap. The two travelers have eight hours to get to Company D’s position, and deliver the order not to attack. They proceed through the battlefield and encounter many twists, turns, and obstacles. Schofield wants to turn back but Blake convinces him to go forward. If they don’t accomplish their mission, many lives will be lost.


WWI was a series of bloody battles, which changed the meaning of war. The dramatic depiction of 1917 is epic. The movie’s realism makes the audience feel as if they are watching the war from the sidelines. The screen disappears and the audience becomes spectators. This is a movie with a protagonist who completes a mission with valor and commitment to duty. There is continual fear and danger everywhere but the mission goes on.


At the film’s end, a credit indicates that the movie’s basis were the war stories of Sam Mendes’s grandfather’s war experiences. Mendes, the film’s writer/director, makes the stories come alive on the screen with humanity, reality and dignity. At times, the film strays into video game mode. Although, these moments don’t last long, they distract from the plot and let the viewer down. Fortunately, these moments are rare so mentally you lose a bit but everything comes back into focus quickly. The dialogue and acting are sincere. Although there is much action and many characters in these battle scenes, the movie at its core is based on a personal journey. Schofield’s heroic cry goes out to the others: I am here and I have a mission. Impediments arise not just from the enemy but from British soldiers and officers who have disregard for Schofield’s mission. Although comrades can be kind and helpful, they are not always so. As one officer along the way states, “When you reach Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) make sure there are witnesses around you because some men just want to fight.”


This is a fine production of a sad but moving story. The horrors of war are certainly there to feel, but so is the gallantry and camaraderie. The British are being called into battle and with their history and traditions supporting them, they take on the fight; a fight to the end.


This movie has frightening and realistic action. Only mature teenagers and not younger children should see it. Adults who are plucky and stout will enjoy the movie. A war is going on with no relief, so be ready.