1917 Parent Guide
A brilliant technical achievement that immerses audiences in the Western Front, this movie features scenes of extreme gore that may deter many viewers.
Parent Movie Review
Young Lance Corporals William Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) have been sent on an urgent and unbelievably dangerous mission. The German army has feigned a retreat, and a British regiment is planning to move into the trap they have set. Carrying orders from General Erinmore (Colin Firth), the young men must reach Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) by the next morning in order to call off the attack and prevent the bloodshed. And, as if the stakes aren’t high enough with 1600 lives on the line, one of them is Blake’s brother, Lieutenant Joseph Blake (Richard Madden).
On a technical level, 1917 is an amazing achievement. Although it obviously hasn’t been filmed in one take, the long shots are miraculously stitched together in a way that hides almost all of the cuts. That may not sound terribly impressive, but you must remember that this is a war film with massive, sweeping scenes: getting a twenty minute shot to go off without a hitch requires dozens or hundreds of extras, technicians, and props to function perfectly and on time. It’s incredible choreography and it makes the film almost unbearably immersive.
That immersion amplifies the film’s ability to project characters’ emotions. The sheer proximity to the action and the horrors the soldiers endure fosters a level of empathy and understanding that negates the need for lengthy dialogue or narration. When Schofield collapses against a tree to listen to a young soldier sing, you can’t help but feel his fatigue and sorrow. There isn’t some huge moral lesson here - merely an illustration of the abject horrors of war, and the redemptive kindness of humanity in the darkest times.
That said, there is still a great deal of gore (although surprisingly little on-screen violence for a war movie) which makes 1917 unsuitable for squeamish viewers of any age. Seeing rats crawl out of the hole in a corpse’s abdomen is enough to put anyone off their popcorn. The bloody and gory scenes are not gratuitous in the wartime context, but they are gruesome and you will definitely want to consider your tolerance for this kind of imagery. In addition, fifteen uses of sexual expletives, while not unexpected on the battlefield, definitely push this movie into the Restricted category.
Though it isn’t suitable for family viewing, I would argue that 1917 qualifies as a superb educational tool with the power to humanize a century-old conflict for contemporary students. Although more fictionalized and less immediately personal than the stellar documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, the stronger narrative focus makes the characters’ struggle even more relatable. And hopefully modern viewers will take seriously the failed hope of those soldiers: that theirs would be the “war to end all wars”.Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, and Mark Strong. Running time: 110 minutes. Theatrical release January 10, 2020. Updated January 10, 2020
Watch the trailer for 1917
Rating & Content Info
Why is 1917 rated R? 1917 is rated R by the MPAA for violence, some disturbing images, and language.
Violence: Several individuals are shot and stabbed; blood is frequently visible. One man is heard screaming after being stabbed. One individual is strangled on screen. Dozens of individuals are killed by artillery bombardments. A tripwire sets off an explosion in a tunnel, throwing men into a wall. Soldiers are seen with multiple wounds, some with missing limbs. Corpses are shown frequently, in various states of decomposition. Some are shown with rats inside them, others are shown floating in stagnant water or being eaten by crows. A man talks about having rats nibble on his ear. An airplane is shot down; it bursts into flame when it lands and the pilot screams as his pants catch fire.
Sexual Content: There is one brief non-explicit reference to sexual activity.
Profanity: There are fifteen uses of sexual expletives, three uses of a scatological term, along with half a dozen mild profanities and a dozen terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A number of characters are shown smoking cigarettes (as was medically recommended at the time), and on two instances characters are shown drinking small amounts of alcohol from hip flasks.
Page last updated January 10, 2020
1917 Parents' Guide
What do you know about World War I?
History.com: World War I
International Encyclopedia of the First World War: Western Front
The Canadian Encyclopedia: First World War (WWI)
Wikipedia: United States in World War I
Australian War Memorial: First World War 1914-1918
How do the events of the Great War still influence our world today?
The Guardian: First world war: 15 legacies still with us today
The Atlantic: How the Great War Shaped the World’
ThoughtCo: The Consequences of World War I
Maclean’s: After the fighting, a nation changed
ABC Radio National: Armistice Day: 100 years ago WWI ended, and Australia was changed forever
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Written only ten years after the end of the war, All Quiet on the Western Front is written from the perspective of a young German infantryman who signed up in 1914 in the patriotic fervor. It is easily one of the most poignant anti-war books ever written. If you need a better review, the novel was one of the first books to be publicly burnt by the Nazis in the early 1930s.
Robert Graves wrote a memoir of his time in the trenches on the Western Front titled Good-bye to All That. A literary look at the soldiers’ experience is found in The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, which was written by a soldier who died at the front.
Ernest Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms after serving as an ambulance driver in Italy in 1918.
Related home video titles:
Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old is a groundbreaking documentary, consisting solely of historical footage and interviews with veterans of the First World War.
Beneath Hill 60 is an Australian war film which tells the story of the Australian Tunneling Company (with occasional appearances by their Canadian counterparts) as they lay a massive network of mines beneath the German trenches before the Battle of Messines.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly film about the Great War, try War Horse.
Though set in the Second World War, Dunkirk has a very similar approach to its subject matter and has been hailed for its realism and powerful storytelling.
A thoroughly underappreciated WWI film is Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 Paths of Glory, starring Kirk Douglas, which explores the meaning of courage and the dangers of incompetent command in the French army.
Gallipoli, which stars a young Mel Gibson, focuses on the disastrous Australian assault on the Turkish position at Gallipoli.