1917 offers mesmerising descent into the horrors of World War One

REVIEW: 1917 (15), (119 mins), Cineworld Cinemas

Sam Mendes’ descent into the horrors of World War One offers a truly mesmerising cinematic experience. Mendes delivers it all with two seemingly-continuous shots in the film, broken only by complete blackness in the middle – all of which has the effect of placing us as close as we can possibly be to the action. We are seeing what the soldiers are seeing, and it is horrifying, compelling stuff.

The premise of the film is that two young British soldiers, Schofield (Captain Fantastic’s George MacKay) and Blake (Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman) are sent on a seemingly impossible mission, through the (suddenly empty) enemy lines, through a ruined town to pass word to 1,600 soldiers who are about to attack into a death trap. If Schofield and Blake cannot get there in time to deliver orders that the attack has been called off, all of them will die, including – to add to the poignancy – Blake’s lieutenant brother.

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This is the mission we accompany them on, hard on their shoulders or almost looking through their eyes thanks to cinematography which is almost unbearable in its intensity. And it is this that carries the film for though you get used to it, the odd fact is that there are times when MacKay and particularly Chapman seem bizarrely clunky. Perhaps it is partly that they are given such thuddingly wooden dialogue to work with… though obviously, in the circumstances, they were hardly going to be pursuing too much philosophical debate.

Even so, just a little question mark hangs over some of the acting – and that’s remarkably rare for the big screen. MacKay in particular seems to have adopted the strangest of accents. But maybe that’s nit-picking. Curiously, any woodenness (and there is a fair amount) doesn’t detract from the pace and urgency of the film. We get a huge sense of all that is hanging on their efforts.

There is a shocking scene when an enemy plane is shot down close by, with tragic consequences; and there is an outstanding scene, beautiful in its tenderness, where one of the soldiers encounters a young French mother and her child in the burning ruins of what was once a thriving town. The result is riveting, exhausting, edge-of-the-seat viewing.