1917 is a visually stunning, immersive World War I spectacle.

The multiple Oscar and BAFTA-winning British film is directed by Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty), who wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Penny Dreadful).

The First World War technical masterpiece is filmed as one continuous shot, so you feel as though you are in the trenches with the film’s two young soldiers throughout its two-hour run time.

From the home entertainment release date and the trailer, to the full cast list and the story that inspired the film, we reveal all you need to know about 1917.

1917 release date and how to watch

Following its release in cinemas at the start of the year, 1917 is available on home entertainment release from Monday, May 4.

BT TV customers can buy it from the BT TV Film Store from this date.

It will be available to rent and on DVD from Monday, May 18.

From George Mackay to Colin Firth - the 1917 cast in a nutshell

George Mackay (Peter Pan, Pride) plays the lead of Lance Corporal William 'Will' Schofield, alongside Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones, The King) as his comrade, Lance Corporal Thomas 'Tom' Blake.

1917 cast Universal Pictures

The film also features a number of cameos from A-list actors who play various senior members of the British army. Colin Firth plays General Erinmore, Daniel Mays plays Sergeant Sanders, Andrew Scott plays Lieutenant Leslie, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Colonel Mackenzie, Mark Strong plays Captain Smith and Richard Madden plays Lieutenant Joseph Blake.

Full 1917 trailer: Get a glimpse of the action

1917 plot - the true story that inspired the film

Set during the height of the First World War, two young British soldiers, Lance Corporal Schofield (MacKay) and Lance Corporal Blake (Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission. 

In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop  1,600 fellow soldiers from walking into a deadly trap - Blake’s own brother among them.

The message is to call off an attack doomed to fail soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich in 1917.

The story is based in part on an account told to director Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes, a World War I soldier.

Sam Mendes BAFTAs Getty

As reported by History.Net, 20-year-old Alfred Mendes volunteered to embark "on a terrifying solo mission through no man’s land to report on the forward location of three British companies, stretched out along the Belgian town of Poelcappelle".

During a podcast interview with Variety, director Sam Mendes explained: “I had a story that was a fragment told to me by my grandfather, who fought in the First World War. It’s the story of a messenger who has a message to carry. 

“And that’s all I can say. It lodged with me as a child, this story or this fragment, and obviously I’ve enlarged it and changed it significantly. But it has that at its core.”

Paying tribute to his grandfather after his Golden Globes win for Best Drama, Mendes said on-stage: “I’d like to dedicate this to my grandfather, Alfred Hubert Mendes, who inspired this film. He signed up for the First World War. He was age 17. I hope he’s looking down on us, and I fervently hope it never ever happens again.”

1917 filming locations: England doubles for France 

The film is set in France, but it was filmed in England between April and June 2019.

The trench and farm scenes were filmed at Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. The waterfall scenes were filmed at Low Force Waterfall, River Tees, County Durham.

Hankley Common in Surrey was also used as a filming location.

How the film’s one continuous shot effect was achieved

1917 is a visually stunning technical achievement, with its Oscar wins a testament to that - it scooped Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects at the 2020 Academy Awards.

The film is presented as a single, continuous shot - the camera stays with the two lance corporals from the film's first frame to its last, as if unfolding in one long take.

You are literally following these young soldiers in the trenches as they race to pass on this urgent, life-saving message.

The effect of one continuous shot was accomplished with long takes and elaborately choreographed moving camera shots.

1917 BTS Universal Pictures

The cast and crew spent six months rehearsing before they started shooting, marking the empty fields with flags so they knew when a scene started and ended. More than a mile of trenches were dug for the movie.

Speaking about why it was important to tell the story in this way, Mendes told KTEP: “Well, once I'd had the idea that it was two hours of real time, it seemed like a natural thing to lock the audience together with the central characters in a way that they gradually began to realise consciously, or unconsciously, they couldn't get out of. 

“It operates more like a ticking-clock thriller in a way. And so to experience every second passing with the men seemed like a great idea.”

Cinematography was headed up by Roger Deakins, who was reunited with Mendes for the fourth time. Watch a behind-the-scenes feature of how the film was made below:

1917 is available on home entertainment release from Monday, May 4.

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