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Stars: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Claire Duburcq, Adrian Scarborough, Richard Madden

Director: Sam Mendes

Beginning with one of the longest tracking shots on record, as the camera backs away from, then pursues two WW1 soldiers through interminable trenches, this occasionally inspiring film is director Mendes' tribute to tales told to his family by their great-grandfather.

Lying in a field behind the front lines, two soldiers (MacKay, Chapman) are called to the CO (Firth), who charges them with a vital mission: get a message to another, distant regiment to tell them their planned offensive is running into a German trap and must be called off. It's an ambush that the enemy, who have cut all telephone wires around the area, have spent months in planning.

The Huns have retreated, so the first part of the long journey should be as safe as anything in this hellish conflict.

A variety of excitements ensues, often enhanced by the direction of Mendes and the imaginative cinematography of Roger Deakins.

When one of the soldiers falls by the wayside, it seems at first a misstep in the story, but the poignancy and tension are only underlined, with bodies and body parts everywhere in the mud, and the desperation, futility and carnage of such a war fully conveyed.

There is, perforce, a certain amount of trudging as well, but still incidents keep bubbling up, as the soldiers encounter enemy fire, a crashing aircraft, rapids, a booby-trapped German cell, rats and a forlorn French woman (Duburcq) with a baby; and, here and there, help is at hand.

Performances are suitably begrimed and edgy, right up to the poignant climax.

David Quinlan

UK 2019. UK Distributor: entertainmentOne. Colour by Company 3.
119 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 04 Jan 2020