1917 is a 2019 British war film directed and produced by Sam Mendes, and written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The film stars George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, with Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch in supporting roles. It is partially inspired by stories told to Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes, about his time serving in World War I. Taking place soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich, the film follows two young British soldiers who are ordered to deliver a message calling off a doomed offensive attack. This message is especially important to one of the soldiers because his brother will be part of the attack.
The project was officially announced in June 2018, with MacKay and Chapman signing on in October and the rest of the cast the following March. Filming took place from April to June 2019 in the UK, with cinematographer Roger Deakins and editor Lee Smith using long takes to have the entire film appear as two continuous shots.
1917 premiered in the UK on 4 December 2019 and was released theatrically in the United States on 25 December by Universal Pictures and in the United Kingdom on 10 January 2020 by Entertainment One. The film received widespread critical praise and was a box office success, grossing $384 million worldwide. Among its numerous accolades it received ten nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and three wins, for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Mixing. It was the last film to win the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing before the category was combined with Best Sound Editing as a single award for Best Sound. The film also won Best Picture at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, 73rd BAFTA Film Awards, and PGA Awards, while Mendes won Best Director at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and DGA Awards. The film was also chosen by both the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute as one of the top ten films of 2019.
On 6 April 1917, aerial reconnaissance has observed that the German army, which has pulled back from a sector of the Western Front in northern France, is not in retreat but has made a strategic withdrawal to the new Hindenburg Line, where they are waiting to overwhelm the British with artillery. In the British trenches, with field telephone lines cut, two young British Lance Corporals, William Schofield, a veteran of the Somme, and Tom Blake, are ordered by General Erinmore to carry a message to Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, calling off a scheduled attack the next morning that would jeopardise the lives of 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother Lieutenant Joseph.
Schofield and Blake cross no man’s land to reach the abandoned German trenches. In an underground barracks, they discover a tripwire set by the Germans, which is promptly triggered by a rat; the explosion almost kills Schofield, but Blake saves him, and the two escape. They arrive at an abandoned farmhouse, where a German plane is shot down in a dogfight with Allied aircraft. Schofield and Blake save the burned pilot, but the pilot stabs Blake and is shot dead by Schofield. Schofield comforts Blake as he dies, promising to complete the mission and to write to Blake’s mother. Taking Blake’s rings and dog tag, as well as Erinmore’s letter, he is picked up by a passing British unit.
A destroyed canal bridge near Écoust-Saint-Mein prevents the British lorries from crossing, and Schofield chooses to part with them. He uses what is left of the bridge to cross alone, and comes under fire from a sniper. Exchanging shots, Schofield wounds the sniper and advances, whereupon he and the sniper shoot each other simultaneously; the sniper is killed, while Schofield is knocked out. He regains consciousness at night, and finds the town in flames. He discovers a French woman hiding with an infant. She treats his wounds, and he gives her his canned food and milk from the farm. Despite her pleas, Schofield leaves, after hearing the chimes of a nearby clock and realising that time is running out. Pursued by German soldiers after strangling one to death, he escapes by jumping into a river. He is swept over a waterfall before reaching the riverbank. In the forest, he finds D Company of the 2nd Devons, which is in the last wave of the attack. As the company starts to move toward the front, Schofield tries to reach Colonel Mackenzie.
Realising that the trenches are too crowded for him to make it to Mackenzie in time, Schofield sprints across the open battlefield, just as the infantry begins its charge. He forces his way in to meet Mackenzie, who reads the message and reluctantly calls off the attack. Schofield then finds Joseph, who was among the first wave but is unharmed. Schofield tells Joseph of his mission and that his brother Tom has died, passing on Tom’s rings and dog tag. Joseph is deeply upset about his brother but thanks Schofield for his efforts. Schofield asks to write to their mother about Tom’s heroics, to which Joseph agrees. Exhausted, Schofield sits under a nearby tree, looking at photographs of his wife and children.
George MacKay as Lance Corporal William “Will” Schofield
Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Thomas “Tom” Blake
Mark Strong as Captain Smith
Andrew Scott as Lieutenant Leslie
Richard Madden as Lieutenant Joseph Blake
Claire Duburcq as Lauri
Colin Firth as General Erinmore
Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie
Daniel Mays as Sergeant Sanders
Adrian Scarborough as Major Hepburn
Jamie Parker as Lieutenant Richards
Michael Jibson as Lieutenant Hutton
Richard McCabe as Colonel Collins
Chris Walley as Private Bullen
Nabhaan Rizwan as Sepoy Jondalar
Michael Cornelius as Private Cornelius
Anson Boon as Private Cook