The new film from renowned writer-director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins is 1917, a World War I epic in which two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay, Captain Fantastic) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Game of Thrones), must race against time to carry a message that will prevent a deadly attack and save hundreds of lives, including that of Blake’s own brother. It’s a simple enough story, comprising high stakes and unrelenting urgency, and the Oscar-winning duo of Mendes and Deakins are imbuing 1917 with technical heroics to match those of the brave souls onscreen: As a new behind-the-scenes featurette shows, the film is presented as one unbroken take that plays out in real time, never cutting away from Schofield and Blake as they risk their lives to cross enemy territory and accomplish their critical mission.
“From the very beginning, I felt this movie should be told in real time,” explains Mendes in the featurette. “Every step of the journey, breathing every breath with this men, felt integral, and there is no better way to tell this story than with one continuous shot.” As Mendes, Deakins, producer Pippa Harris and others go on to explain in Monday’s featurette, this approach required some fancy camera work, to say the least—ramping up the difficulty level even more, 1917 called for “endless exteriors,” putting the production completely at the mercy of the weather (or “in the lap of the gods,” as Mendes puts it), and requiring Deakins and his team to shoot the film in sequence, using only natural light.
“I wanted people to understand how difficult it was for these men, and the nature of that is behind everything,” Mendes concludes.
Mendes co-wrote 1917 with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Penny Dreadful), also producing alongside Harris for their Neal Street Productions, Jayne-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall and Brian Oliver. Also starring are most of the English actors you like, including Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott and Richard Madden, as well as newcomer Claire Duburcq, who makes her screen debut.
Universal Pictures opens 1917 in select theaters Dec. 25 before taking it wide on Jan. 10, 2020. Watch the film’s new featurette below and revisit a previous trailer here.