42 Comments

  1. There is a bit worth talkIng about I think.
    The way they charge their weapons before they go into no man’s land with an extra clip. The way Blake arrives his rifle at a high port.

    They they approach the German trench,

    Worth noting and commenting on, no ?

  2. The one firearm-related element I noticed was that, in photos of this period of the war, the Lewis guns are very evident. In the movie there were almost none.

  3. Ian: This review of 1917 made it clear to me where your future
    should lie (If you decide to accept it) “At the Movies with Ian McCollum”.
    Your firearms videos reveal the same type of deep research necessary for an excellent Movie Reviewer.
    Trim the reviews for a wider audience and you’re off to the races.
    The firearms reviews were interesting to be sure, though eventually, the anti-gun Nazi’swill tighten your ability to even say “gun”.

    • Anti-gun people tend to be left wing, so calling them “Nazi” is a stupid idea. They tend to be the earliest fatal casualty population of any real war, generally because they will get shot first by any potential unscrupulous invader (get easy kills first!). Just kidding!

      • Oh, let’s be clear, Nazis are socialists – the Communists call them right wing so they can smear Conservatives as Nazis.

        Good movie, bit more plausible than Fury, goes a bit wonky towards the end.

        Ian, what happened yesterday? YouTube get an exclusive?

        • No. You are wrong. Marxist-Leninists and fascists, including Nazis are both totalitarians. Fascists are on the political “right.” Communists were on the political “left.”
          The Social Democratic Party, the left in general, and especially the KPD German Communist Party and the labor unions were all suppressed by the Nazis, who had ample collaboration from leading industrialists.

          http://ghdi.ghi-dc.org/sub_image.cfm?image_id=1890

          • Learn what horseshoe theory is, and don’t post about subjects like this until you do.

          • The Mensheviks were suppressed by the Bolsheviks. Does that make the Mensheviks right wing?

            Socialists (and Communists) own the means of production; Nazis control the means of production. That is a distinction without a difference.

          • Englebert Dolfuß the “Austrofascist” and admirer of Catholic corporatism and Benito Mussolini was whacked by Nazis prior to Anschluß. Does that make Dolfuß left wing? I mean, after all, he came from a movement called “Christian SOCIALIST” so let every North American take note and feel smug, right?

            The fact that totalitarian movements, whether motivated by Marxism-Leninism, or nationalism, or one or another far left or far right political ideology engage in sectarianism against kindred and opposition movements won’t save an argument from logical fallacies.

          • How can so many fixate on the (mis?)use of the word “Nazi”., (used in the context of”Soup Nazi”) and completely miss the point being made, with discredited Horseshoe Theory and other distractions from the suggestion that Ian McCollum has an opportunity to do movie reviews with his brand of talent which is not common.

  4. Great film! A few minor quibbles based on watching the movie once, several months ago.
    1. Damn few machine guns. I recall only a Lewis where there would have been a number of them plus a sprinkling of Vickers.
    2. I remember reading a description of a WWI trench as noting the entire floor of the trench was covered with a layer of expended and unexpended cartridges. A couple of bushels of expended .303 brass would not have cost much.
    3. No snipers, at least on our side.
    4. The main character never reloaded his rifle even after firing several shots during a duel with a German sniper.

    • Larry – Totally agree about the failure to reload. Another quibble – Numerous times the main character racks his bolt completely (like Hollywood loves to rack shotgun slides). If you are in combat you damn sure are going to “have one up the pipe” (me talking like a Brit) at all times. I could see bringing the bolt out of battery to make sure there’s one there but a full cycle – don’t think so as you would be extracting an unfired round into the dirt which never happened. I’m gonna be unpopular and say I didn’t like the movie very much. The long shot got boring and I’ll bet they were using one section of trench over and over.

  5. Ok, I have not seen the movie, but just from Ian’s insightful comments I’d mention these little details.

    First of all, when World War One was said to have “wrecked Europe for a generation”, they were referring to the deaths, not the real estate. The actual combat areas were relatively small, even compared to say the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. No capitol of any of the combatants was ever in danger of being besieged or taken by the enemy, which was highly unusual for a major war up to that time. For that matter, it was to be almost unique in major wars, period, even to this day.

    The real losses in WW1 were men;

    The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War One is estimated to be about 40 million: estimates range from 20.5 to 22 million deaths and about 20 to 22 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. (Wiki)

    And since most soldiers were volunteers at first, it was among the “best and brightest” of that generation where the losses were greatest. As art critic Robert Hughes said in The Shock of the New, if you asked where the Claude Debussy of England or the Cecil Day-Lewis of France are, the answer would be, “still in the trenches”.

    This was also why the Zeppelin and Gotha raids on London, not to mention the Paris Gun, came as such shocks. Neither strategic bombing or extremely long-range artillery were things considered by anybody except writers of “scientific romances” before that. H.G. Wells had covered long-range airship bombing in The War in the Air in 1908, and Jules Verne had worked out ultra-long-range artillery in The Begum’s Fortune in 1879. It seems nobody in any of the War Ministries had ever bothered to read either one- except maybe the one in Berlin.

    Regarding gas masks, the main reason soldiers carried them but didn’t wear them except during an actual gas attack was that the masks severely restricted airflow as part of the filtering system. Meaning, a man exerting himself heavily (such as marching, walking a long distance, or engaged in heavy work) would soon be out of breath as the system just couldn’t keep up with his demands for breathable air. This is still a problem with MOPP gear today, BTW.

    Also, by 1917 the main gas in use was mustard gas, a vesicant or “blistering agent”. You didn’t have to breathe it to be injured by it, just getting it on your skin was injurious. Nothing short of a full gas-proof suit would protect a man from mustard, and there was no such thing at the time.

    Just to add insult to injury, since mustard was a persistent gas (actually a liquid) that was slightly less dense than water, those water-filled shell craters Ian mentioned would no doubt have had mustard lying on top of the water, like oil or gasoline. Fall in one, and you’d end up with the stuff all over you. Ditto if an incoming shell hit an existing crater and in detonating splashed the stagnant water all over Hell’s half-acre, as it often did.

    As to why rear areas were not subject to artillery, it wasn’t due to any “gentlemans’ agreement”, but simple common sense. Field artillery of the time, like the German 77mm, had an effective range of about 8,000 yards. Heavy artillery, like the British 14-inch railway guns, had effective ranges of around 38,000 yards.

    And they all had to worry about counter-battery fire from their opposite numbers on the other side of No Man’s land.

    Which means that the artillery was, as a general rule, just close enough to the front lines to hit their assigned targets in the enemy’s Forward Line of Own Troops, and in the case of the heavies a marshaling area just behind the enemy FLOT, but no closer.

    Artillery of the time was not the highly mobile thing it is today, or even in World War Two. It took time to set up, time to carry out a fire mission, and time to break down and move.

    So it was no closer to the front lines than it absolutely had to be. Which meant that anything more than about a mile or so behind same on the other side was pretty much out of reach. Aerial bombing would largely replace artillery in World War Two, and in doing so change the shape of war forever.

    World War One was fought very differently from most wars before or since. The nearest thing to it since that time was probably the Iran-Iraq War (22 Sept 1980- 20 Aug 1988), specifically the attrition phase from about 1983 on. Both wars were outliers, bordering on black swan events, in military history

    And most professionals, as opposed to armchair strategists and politicians, would prefer it stayed that way.

    cheers

    eon

    • Good account, well written.

      If I was to add something, scripted&played movie is in no way a documentary of actual event. It should be taken with huge degree of reservation. I do not pay much attention to them.

    • I don’t agree with the fact that the war did not wreck countries. It wrecked Belgium, and not only the combat zone. The Germans torched towns (Leuven, Dinant, …), killed civilians, confiscated materials, animals and people. People had to surrender their resources, even down to doorknobs as materials. In 1918, this country was completely in ruins, the economy was gone and the Spanish Influenza took hold of a weakened polulation.

    • “(…)Zeppelin and Gotha raids on London, not to mention the Paris Gun, came as such shocks. Neither strategic bombing or extremely long-range artillery were things considered by anybody except writers of “scientific romances” before that. H.G. Wells had covered long-range airship bombing in The War in the Air in 1908, and Jules Verne had worked out ultra-long-range artillery in The Begum’s Fortune in 1879. It seems nobody in any of the War Ministries had ever bothered to read either one- except maybe the one in Berlin.(…)”
      There is book Tanks in the Great War, 1914-1918 available here:
      http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/49808
      author was staff officer during that conflict:
      Had the combatant nations of the Great War possessed more foresight, had they thought of war as a science in place of as an insurance policy, they could have had a steam-driven tank thirty years ago and a petrol-driven one immediately after the South African War. The Batter tractor existed, anyhow in design, in 1888, and during the South African War Mr. W. Ralston drew a comic picture entitled “Warfare of the Future: The Tractor Mounted Infantry in Action,” to say nothing about the story by Mr. H. G. Wells. But no, the breath of ancient battles had to be breathed, and whilst military students were studying Jena, Inkerman, and Worth, the commercial sciences were daily producing one invention after another which a little adjustment would help win the next war more speedily than the study of scores of Jominis and Clausewitzs.

      • One of the problems with developing AFVs before Little Willie was that all the theorists, even Mr. wells, visualized them as wheeled vehicles, and wheels were really not much use except on fairly flat, hard going.

        Also, steam power had the problem that an armor-piercing shot or shell into the boiler pretty much blew up the vehicle, crew, guns, ammunition and all.

        While a 600-foot-long, 30,000 ton warship could effectively protect itself from such a Golden BB by putting the boilers below the waterline behind the armor belt and the anti-torpedo bulges, the same was not true for something that had to be small and light enough to both be transported by rail for long distances, and cross bridges and soft ground on its own.

        To be effective on the battlefield, the AFV had to meet all those requirements. And until the caterpillar track and the internal combustion engine were developed to the level it needed for practicality, that wasn’t possible.

        cheers

        eon

        • “(…)While a 600-foot-long, 30,000 ton warship could effectively protect itself from such a Golden BB by putting the boilers below the waterline behind the armor belt and the anti-torpedo bulges, the same was not true for something that had to be small and light enough to both be transported by rail for long distances, and cross bridges and soft ground on its own.(…)”
          Well, steam was used to power armoured train, which were extensively used during Russian Civil War. Whilst steam locomotives are often heavier than tanks, still much to closer in this regard to tanks rather than battlecruisers and there is no way to place it under water line. ~20 years later, most of Polish armoured train used in 1939 year were also steam powered https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armoured_trains_of_Poland
          none experienced boiler explosion so far I know.

    • Your comments are mostly spot-on, but when you say “No capitol of any of the combatants was ever in danger of being besieged or taken by the enemy,” do you not forget the saving of Paris by the “taxicab army” transporting 6,000 reservists into the fray to prevent the fall of Paris?

      • That was during the first “movement” phase. Once the trench line stretched from the Swiss border to the North Sea, the war was very much geographically confined on the Western Front. Hence the need for things like Zeppelins, Gothas, and finally the Paris Gun to actually threaten Allied capitals.

        By comparison, the Allies never managed to seriously threaten Berlin through four years of war. Compare that to 1939-45, if you will.

        Everyone went into the war in August 1914 expecting a replay of 1870-71. A “war of movement” with everybody showing their martial prowess with brilliant maneuvers on a grand scale. And medals and honors for everybody with braid on their cap brims.

        They didn’t realize that the technology of war had outstripped their ideas of how to “properly” conduct a war. Instead of romancing about Sedan in 1871, they should have taken a hard look at Richmond in 1865 and Plevna in 1877.

        The bill was paid by the common soldiers. In blood.

        cheers

        eon

  6. An excellent, to me, film. Let the ‘stitch Nazis’ quibble over minutiae. It feels right. I think having one Tommy wearing the 1914 leather gear was brilliant. What better (subtle) way to tell two muddy PBI’s apart.

  7. It’s a “major motion picture” directed to a wide audience, not just history buffs, so there were some things to make it more accessible. The first, of course, was the major plot element that two low ranking soldiers are sent off on fast-moving mission (an adventure of sorts).

    The downed German pilot stabbing one of them struck me as unlikely, it seemed the action of a fanatic, not a “knight of the air” as even media of the time presented them.

    Were the Germans in the building getting drunk deserters or what?

    I thought the rifle handling was good and enjoyed the movie. It sort of had the feel of “Dunkirk” to it in terms of cinematic themes.

    • A bit off subject, but since you bring it up, I found the major flaw in “Dunkirk” to be Tom Hardy’s character landing his Hurricane on the beach and surrendering to the Germans. Any British pilot would have glided his undamaged plane back out to sea in the direction of the small boat rescue fleet to be picked up and returned to England. While planes were replaceable, pilots were far less so!

      • Also, at the time the RAF were destroying crippled Hurricanes on the ground in France and Belgium to prevent them falling into German hands intact for security reasons, as seen in the prologue of Battle of Britain (1969).

        A pilot who voluntarily delivered an intact fighter to the Luftwaffe for evaluation would likely have faced court-martial upon returning to England. And note that prisoner exchanges of aircrew via the Protecting Power group in Geneva were common up to about mid-1941.

        cheers

        eon

        • Definitely not nitipicking but….

          Dunkirk Movie brit birds were Spitfire Mark 1s. The birds actually flown for the shots were Yak52s, taildragger versions, dressed up. Probably CGI in there too. Spit Mark 1s are very rare. Almost impossible to put three together.

          Spitfire had a horrible reputation for ditching. Probably something to do with the radiators. The scene with the ditch was too long above water. It would have been hit the water and disappeared. At least from what I have read of it (never ditched one myself)

          Tom Hardy’s character shoots at pretty much everything. Used 70+ seconds of ammo. Spitfire had 13 at that time.

          All minor stuff. The movie was good and the trick of having the time lines come together, for three different versions, with the sinking of the ship, was pretty neat.

  8. I loved this movie! As a military historian-reenactor, it really showed a lot of details and got so much right, gas masks aside.
    However I noticed a huge lack of machine guns even being shown let alone fired. Did I miss the Vickers, Maxims, Lewises?

  9. Ian, I enjoyed your review very much. May I assume that you have also read the famous book “Storm Of Steel” (In Stahlgewittern) by Ernest Junger? Of all I have ever read of The Great War, it is perhaps Junger’s narrative that makes one feel all of the aspects of that great tragedy. For anyone interested, it is one man’s story that will forever haunt your mind of what an entire generation went through…including French civilians.

  10. The best that can be said about this film is that it is the British version of Hollywood dross such as saving Private Ryan, Fury, Pearl Harbor, and similar. If you wish to see quality productions on the 1914-18 War, you cannot go past the totally realistic French productions of the past 15 years, such as The Tunnel, Capatien Conan (actually 1996 – but only released with English subtitles in 2015), Officers Ward, LES FUSILLÉS (which received very good reviews in the US), as did La Peur in 2015.

    1917 is if you have any degree of knowledge of the History of The Great War to End All Wars, British Army in the field of that year, or the actual advance to to The Hindenburg Line, it becomes apparent that the producers and their technical advisers did not. As other commentators had stated – where’s the Lewis Guns, or the Vickers Guns, which are so apparent of photos of the advance right forward with the rifle company’s.

    It is easy to nit pick; a rifleman in 1917 wearing the 1914 pattern Leather Equipment, that was created especially for the horde of men for Kitchener’s Army. Which rotted as soon exposed to heavy rain (not proofed and treated leather before manufacture). People of a Black racial origin, terribily sorry, but NO; the PC people have got it terribily wrong equally so with the appearance of a supposed Sikh in the ranks of a British infantry battalion in 1917-the Indian Army Corps had left France and Flanders in it entity by March 1916. And besides how would they fed a Sikh with his religious dietary needs?

    For people like me who grew up in the 1950-60’s with a family whose men had survived the trenches (our paternal grandfather was a Regimental Sergeant Major in 1914, and a Lt Col infantry battalion commander in 1918) of nine sons, five actually survived the trenches (four infantrymen), our father a Regimental Boy in 1914, in 1916 in the Machine Gun Corps (the others Royal Navy, Marines, and two artificers in RAOC (Ordnance)-one of whom spent three years clearing ammunition dumps in France and Germany.

    Myself and two others given free tickets for the first showing in Sydney walked out after 42 minutes, it OK for the Punters, but if you have any degree of knowledge of the Great War and have actually served on a two way rifle range, NO.

    If you want to see in the US a truly realistic film on War, since 2018 Pierre Schoendoerffer classic novel on the War in Indo-China, The 317th Platoon (B&W 1964) has been on release. The very good US film critic Glenn Kenny wrote at the end of 2018 when it released “Screening officially in New York for the first time, this is a genuinely revelatory war movie.”

    • Ouch!

      I’ve been looking for a copy of 317th Platoon after I read Antony Beevor’s take on good and bad war films. I had never heard of it before.

      Someday… Perhaps.

      Thing is: _Saving Ryan’s Privates_ is utterly excellent during the 20 minutes Omaha Beach landing sequence, even if it is derivative of Kurosawa’s _Ran_–Heck! It’s a film “quote” just like Battleship Potemkin’s famous baby-carriage on the Odessa steps scene, right? On the other hand, everything goes to heck after that portion of the movie… And if the goal of the film was to inform or educate–let alone “Indoctrinate”–in addition to entertain, well… You’d do better to watch the hoary old _Longest Day_ based on Cornelius Ryan’s book, which actually portrays all sides to a complex, multi-national battle, even the Germans!– and shows that perfidy and the “fog of war” was not limited to one side or another. After Ryan’s somewhat hokey rendition with lots of U.S. pop-stards and crooners and so on, one knows a bit about Operation Overlord and the opening of the Second Front… Entirely unlike Spielberg’s bit o’ propaganda.

    • “(…)For people like me who grew up in the 1950-60’s with a family whose men had survived the trenches (our paternal grandfather was a Regimental Sergeant Major in 1914, and a Lt Col infantry battalion commander in 1918) of nine sons, five actually survived the trenches (four infantrymen), our father a Regimental Boy in 1914, in 1916 in the Machine Gun Corps (the others Royal Navy, Marines, and two artificers in RAOC (Ordnance)-one of whom spent three years clearing ammunition dumps in France and Germany.(…)”
      Interestingly 1917 was inspired by true story, as told by Sam Mendes’ paternal grandfather: https://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/1917/
      though movie follows it quite loosely. Taking this account, you might except it closer to veteran’s memoirs rather than realistic recreation of historic events.

  11. Just my 2 cents…

    Not too bad as a movie compared to the heaps of awful trash we’re getting these days. Especially in regards to one-sided politics and silly indoctrination (attempts). 1917 just tries to tell a story and “show” us the setting. (And that’s also the reason why it gets bashed by the usual suspects in the media as being “too white” etc.)

    No, it’s not a “documentary” – that would be Peter Jackson’s (mostly ignored) They Shall Not Grow Old. So don’t expect it to be “straight” and “correct” in every aspect. It’s good entertainment, well done and in a historical setting, no more and no less.

    Ironically, the other recent movie 1917 reminded me was Wonder Woman. Which is a lot of fun – and not very accurate (especially to its own source AND history). But it looks gorgeous in a similar way. Oh, well…

  12. I wondered if you noticed when the German rifleman was engaged the British protagonist’s uniform and Lee- Enfield were spotless after tramping though mud and filth.

  13. I had only two real issues with it because I expect they cant get everything technically correct.

    The Pilot stabbing the one soldier felt out of place. If anything a pilot would have a handgun not a dagger.

    and the airplane crash itself, the typical ”OMG its coming right at us” so let’s run ahead of it instead of at right angles from it (but that would ruin the drama of the scene) seemed a Hitchcock style of gimmick straight out of North by Northwest.

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