FlixChatter Review – 1917 (2020)

When I heard that Sam Mendes, the Oscar winning director of American Beauty and one of my favorite “James Bond” films, Skyfall, was releasing a World War I film, I was beyond intrigued. Centered around the spring of 1917 during the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich, Mendes wanted to incorporate a story his grandfather Alfred Mendes told him about a messenger and his heroic task during the war. The film, appropriately titled 1917, is takes place on the front lines in northern France, as the British 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment is planning to mount an attack on the retreating German forces. The Germans have mounted a retreat to the Hindenburg Line, but are planning to ambush the 2nd Battalion, a company battalion of 1,600 men, in hopes of catching the British forces by surprise.

Colin Firth in 1917

The movie opens on two young British soldiers, Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) napping underneath a tree at the edge of the British trenches in northern France. Suddenly, Lance Corporal Blake is awaked by his commanding officer, telling him to pick a partner and report for further instructions from British General Erinmore (Colin Firth). General Erinmore tasks the two Lance Corporals to deliver a message to halt a British force of the 2nd Battalion before they walk into a trap laid by the German army. The General informs Blake and Schofield that among the 1,600 men of the 2nd Battalion is also Blake’s own brother, Lieutenant Joseph Blake (Richard Madden), and that they must to do the impossible: cross over No Man’s Land, evade enemy forces, and stay alive long enough to deliver a message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) at the front line that his 2nd Battalion is walking into a trap, set by the German Army.

Dean-Charles Chapman + George MacKay

After Blake and Schofield cross into No Man’s Land, with some careful instruction from a Lieutenant Leslie (Andrew Scott), they reach the original German front, finding the trenches abandoned. Their worst feelings come true, as they find that the abandoned trenches turn out to be booby-trapped by the Germans in hopes of killing as many British soldiers as possible. Thanks to some (extremely large) rats who set off one of the booby-traps, the ensuing explosion almost kills Schofield. Thankfully, Blake is there to help Schofield out and they manage to run out of the collapsing bunkers just in time. Having to take shelter in ruined buildings, and sidestepping over unseen obstacles, Blake and Schofield arrive at an abandoned farmhouse and witness a dogfight between British and German planes nearby. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) – As a German pilot is shot down and crash lands near them, Blake and Schofield try to rescue the pilot from the burning wreckage, but the German soldier turns his knife on Blake and mortally wounds him.

As Schofield is now tasked to deliver the message to Colonel Mackenzie alone, he is picked up by a passing British contingent and dropped off near the bombed-out village of Écoust-Saint-Mein. Dodging snipers and climbing over collapsed bridges, Schofield is injured and gets knocked out by a ricocheting bullet. As he wakes up hours later, it is nightfall and Schofield tries to navigate the bombed out and collapsed buildings of Écoust-Saint-Mein, as the German soldiers set fire to large building, creating a giant blaze in the middle of the night and helping Schofield light the way around the town. Unfortunately, he also becomes the target of numerous German snipers, managing to evade them before he finds shelter in an abandoned basement, where he stumbles into the hiding place of a French woman and an infant. He leaves them some canned food and milk he had found at the abandoned farmhouse that he and Blake had found.

Bound by completing his mission, Schofield leaves the woman and infant, but not before learning that the place he is looking for is just down river from the village he was in. He runs past more German soldiers and snipers, and ends up jumping into the river, going over a waterfall and finding more dead bodies of soldiers from both sides. In the morning, he comes across a part of the British 2nd Battalion, as they wait and prepare to go into battle.

From them, he learns that they are actually a part of the second wave, and that while attack has already begun and Blake’s brother is among the first wave to go over the top, he still has time to reach Colonel Mackenzie before it’s too late. He sprints across the trenches and actually climbs onto the battlefield to reach Colonel Mackenzie, who is at first reluctant to call off the attack, but ends up relenting and follows General Erinmore and British Command’s instructions. Schofield is left to find Lieutenant Joseph Blake, SPOILER (highlight to read): and to inform him of his brother’s death. Lieutenant Blake thanks Schofield for his efforts and leaves Schofield to sit by a tree, finally able to rest after successfully completing his mission.


For 1917, Mendes collaborates again with award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, award-winning composer Thomas Newman and co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Mendes and Deakins decided to shoot the movie as one long take, without cutting between scenes. Since it’s told from the point of view of Blake and Schofield, Mendes and Deakins rely on lead actors George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman to take the audience from the trenches, to the battlefields and abandoned farmhouses and other building. Both MacKay and Chapman tackle this challenge with much success, but it is really MacKay that makes the emotional connection needed to make his character relatable yet resilient. Chapman plays on the youth and inexperience of Lance Corporal Blake to make it seem like he needs Lance Corporal Schofield to succeed.

Even though we don’t see much of Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden or Colin Firth, they each fulfill their roles to advance the plot line and bring the notion of familiarity and comfort to the audience, who has been carrying along with the two relatively-unknown lead actors. Not knowing the fates of the two lead British soldiers was a clever tactic used by Mendes, and losing one or both soldiers in battle would not be as big of a setback to the viewers if their message would somehow end up reaching its destination. Had Mendes cast household recognizable actors in those roles, it would have been much harder for the story to develop in the direction that it did. Thomas Newman’s score is also very memorable and fits perfectly into the wartime arc of the movie.

This is one my top-10 movies of the year and I’d be surprised if it didn’t get nominated for multiple Academy Awards. It just won the Golden Globe Award for Best Drama this past Sunday, and Sam Mendes won the Golden Globe for Best Director. I’d also like to see nominations for Thomas Newman’s score, Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ screenplay and perhaps most of all, Roger Deakins’ cinematography.

This is a deeply memorable film that will be remembered as one of the best World War I movies of all time, and it ranks as perhaps one of the best war movies ever made. It is not to be missed, especially in an IMAX theater and I give it my wholehearted, unabridged endorsement.

– Review by Vitali Gueron

Have you seen 1917? Well, what did you think? 

18 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review – 1917 (2020)

  1. I just skimmed through your review here Vitali since I’m seeing this tomorrow. Unfortunately the theaters closest to me aren’t showing it in IMAX but it’s in Dolby Cinema, which I prefer over IMAX. Looking forward to seeing this one, I too loved SKYFALL, maybe my favorite Bond film of all time. And of course Deakins is the best in the business when it comes to capturing beautiful shots.

    I’ll come back and read your full review after I’ve seen it.

    1. Vitali Gueron

      Thanks Ted. Would love to hear your thoughts after seeing 1917. I also love the Dolby Cinema, which I would highly recommend for this movie as well.

      1. Just saw a few hours ago and can’t stop thinking about. Like you, I thought this was one of the best war films ever made. It’s a masterful filmmaking by Mendes and Deakins. It’s up there with my favorite war films: Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Dunkir and Apocalypse Now.

          1. Vitali Gueron

            The battle violence in 1917 is graphically realistic, including all of the shootings, stabbings, bombings, etc. There are many deceased humans/animals with various wounds throughout the movie. The goriest part of the film, I would say, is towards the end when Schofield is done talking with Colonel Mackenzie and visits a makeshift field hospital with soldiers in pain who are bloody and/or missing limbs.

          2. You know it’s not that gory at all, like Vitali said, they showed wounded soldiers but it’s nothing super graphic like Saving Private Ryan. The violence is kind of similar to The Thin Red Line, there are some intense sequences but it didn’t contain gore stuff. I highly you check it out on the big screen to appreciate Deakin’s cinematography.

            1. Oh ok then, I’ll try to see this before its theatrical run is over. I do love The Thin Red Line! So Ted, what’s the biggest ‘IMAX’ screen here in town now that the IMAX Zoo has closed? Is it the Southdale one?

              1. Yeah I think Southdale’s IMAX is probably the biggest one here MN. But 1917 is not shown there on IMAX, only in Dolby Cinema, which I prefer. So if you can see it on Dolby Cinema this weekend, I would highly recommended. I don’t know how long it’s going to be there with Bad Boys 3 opening this weekend, not sure if it’s still playing in that theater.

                1. Vitali Gueron

                  So… what’s interesting about the Minneapolis / St. Paul area is that there are four AMCs with IMAX screens: AMC Eden Prairie Mall 18, AMC Southdale 16, AMC Arbor Lakes 16 and AMC Rosedale 14. Only one of them (AMC Rosedale 14) recently underwent an upgrade–it’s now called IMAX with Laser at AMC–which also includes brand new seats. The screen sizes themselves are relatively the same at all four screens.

                  Other options include the Dolby Cinemas at AMC Rosedale 14 and AMC Southdale 16, Prime Cinema at AMC Eden Prairie Mall 18 (which include reverberating seats, etc.), ShowPlace ICON Theatres’ ICONX & VIP which includes among other things Dolby ATMOS sound and 4K laser projection, and Emagine Theater’s EMAX screens which feature Dolby ATMOS sound, state-of-the-art 4K projectors, and luxurious power-reclining seats.

                  As you can see, you have plenty of choices.

                  1. Yeah I’ve seen films at the IMAX in Southdale, Rosedale and Eden Prairie mall, Southdale and Rosedale have about the same screen, I did read about Rosedale upgraded their projector to Laser now, might visit there to check out someday, too far for me to get there from where I live. Eden Prairie Mall’s IMAX screen very small, I highly DON’T recommend anyone paying the high price to see movies at that “IMAX” theater. Also, their Prime Cinema theater is crap, awful picture quality and again I don’t recommend anyone to pay the high price to see movies there. Love the ICON vip theater that has Dolby Atmos.

                    The thing about this film is that it’s only been shown at Dolby Cinema at Southdale and Rosedale since it opened wide last week. Most if not all of the IMAX theaters were only showing Rise of Skywalker. Now that Bad Boys for Life has opened, I believe it’s taken over all of the IMAX screens here in MN.

                    Ruth, 1917 is still being shown at Dolby Cinema at Southdale if you still want to see it on the biggest screen available.

    1. Vitali Gueron

      Please come back and tell us what you thought of the movie. I was very lucky to have seen it back in December on a large Dolby Atmos theater and most recently on a laser IMAX theater, knowing most people haven’t even seen it even once yet. I really hope that changes soon!

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