How Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins Pulled Off the One-Shot War Epic ‘1917’


A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley 1917” (Rated R)

World War I, otherwise known as the Great War, resulted in roughly 20 million deaths of military personnel and civilians. Then along came World War II as the deadliest war human history.

Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather and others who served in World War I, director Sam Mendes brings his singular vision in “1917” to the story of two young British soldiers at the height of the war.

What is probably the most linear war film ever, “1917” tracks the dangerous journey of Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) across enemy territory to deliver a vital message to save the lives of 1,600 compatriots.

Unfolding over two days in April in northern France, Blake and Schofield are directed by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to serve orders on Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), commander of the 2nd Battalion, to call off an attack on the Germans.

Failure to deliver the General’s orders is not an option for the two British soldiers, as there is no other method of communication to the front lines to warn fellow brothers-in-arms that they would be marching into a suicidal trap.

The added twist to the mission is that Blake’s older brother (Richard Madden) is a Lieutenant following Colonel Mackenzie, who is convinced that he has the Germans on the run and can break through the Hindenburg Line and turn the tide of the war.

Schofield and Blake are so young, the latter even more baby-faced and not hardened to the harsh realities of violent conflict, that they seem hardly old enough even to shave and indulge in adult pursuits.

To get to the front lines of Mackenzie’s encampment, the two soldiers must run through trenches and across a no-man’s land of war-torn fields littered with the bodies of fallen soldiers and dead horses, all the while keeping their wits about them.

At least in contemporary times, films about the Second World War are more prevalent than those about the First, and “1917” aims to capture a slice of the often overlooked, if not forgotten, war that few would know was set off by a chain of events as the result of an assassination.

More than the dwelling on the landscape of brutality and destruction on the battlefield, Sam Mendes invests heavily in the saga of Blake and Schofield, infusing their perilous objective with a sense of urgency and relevance that is harrowing and haunting.

1917” is an immersive experience, taking the viewer into a sensitive environment where you feel so connected to the two heroes that being emotionally invested in the outcome is unavoidable. In short, this tense film is brilliant.


Celebrating its 50th anniversary for public television broadcasting, PBS announced its high-profile programs at the winter television press tour, ranging from political figures to a musical legend and more.

The newest edition to AMERICAN EXPERIENCE’S award-winning series of presidential biographies, “George W. Bush” is a two-part look at his life and presidency. Part One follows Bush’s unorthodox road to the White House, including his emergence as the victor of the most hotly contested election in the nation’s history and the shattering events that unfolded on September 11, 2001.

The second part opens with the ensuing war in Iraq and continues through Bush’s second term, as the president confronts the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina and the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Interestingly, GREAT PERFORMANCES will present “Ann,” a portrait of Ann Richards, the legendary governor of Texas from 1991 to 1995. Written and performed by Holland Taylor, “Ann” is a filmed version of a one-woman stage play that allows the subject to shine with colorful one-liners.

Not mentioned during press interview sessions is the fact that Ann Richards, a liberal in a conservative state who served one term, was defeated for re-election by George W. Bush, who won two-terms before moving up to the highest office in the land.

AMERICAN MASTERS will present “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” a Grammy-nominated film that is the definitive account of the man behind the legend, made possible by full access to the Miles Davis Estate.

The film features never-before-seen footage, including studio outtakes from recording sessions, rare photos, and new interviews. Luminaries such as Quincy Jones, Carlos Santana, and record producer Clive Davis weigh in on the musical visionary’s life and career.

A disturbing film with a limited theatrical release, “One Child Nation” will get a well-deserved wider distribution on PBS to reveal the extreme population control measure that made it illegal for couples to have more than one child in totalitarian China.

Expedition with Steve Backshall,” a new 10-episode series, seeks out incredible adventures with the titular explorer and naturalist who pursues inconceivable journeys by setting foot where no human has been before.

Backshall and his crew endure extreme physical challenges and encounters with extraordinary wildlife, including descending deep into the caves of the Maya underworld and kayaking the Himalayan whitewater.

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