Today marks one year since my debut novel The 392 was released and I’m feeling reflective.
It’s hard to believe that what originally started out as a short story for my MA – which I studied for while working as a secondary school English teacher – is now celebrating its first birthday.
Set entirely on a fictional London bus over 36 minutes, The 392 was initially written as a way of coming to terms with the rapid gentrification of my childhood home in east London. Subsequently, inspired by these changes, and my experiences in the classroom, I wanted to write a novel that would appeal to a wide range of readers, from the reluctant to the avid, as well as, giving a platform to voices I felt aren’t heard enough in contemporary literary fiction. It was for these reasons that ever-growing Hackney-based indie publisher OWN IT! were the perfect match when trying to find my novel a home.
Since the book’s hardback launch in April 2019, The 392 has also been released as a paperback (and again soon as an audiobook); I have had opportunities to appear at Stoke Newington Lit Fest, WOMAD, Primadonna, headline UEA Live; appeared on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio London a few times; have talked in schools and universities across the country, even TV rights have been optioned. A year on, I’m still so grateful to everyone who’s bought or borrowed a copy of The 392 in the last twelve months.
Now knee-deep into editing the first draft of my second book, which makes up roughly 80% of my PhD, I’ve also managed to squeeze in time to read a decent number of novels in the year since The 392 has been released. Admittedly, I still have a quite a few proofs to wade through, and my self-bought TBR pile is precariously Jenga-like on my bedside. But below are just ten of the books I have read and enjoyed in the last year or so.
Undoubtedly, my choices are shaped by my own stylistic intentions for my new novel; works that are lyrical, that experiment with the aesthetics of how words look on the page, works that play around with the poetry of prose at sentence level.
With this mind, and apologies at the ready for any great books I haven’t yet read and therefore not named, here are ten novels in no particular order I’ve loved in the last year:
On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous Ocean Vuong
The writing in this novel is sensory and stunning. Vuong’s sentencing is poignant and poetic and lyrical, oozing beauty from the very first page.
That Reminds Me Derek Owusu Lusciously lyrical. The succinct sections of this beautiful little book allow the reader to palpably experience the story of protagonist K in his darkest days with the sharpest of lines.
Lanny Max Porter Highly inventive and majestically musical, Porter captures the symphonies of childhood in a poetic work that challenges the hybridity of the novel form in a book that sings to you throughout.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers Max Porter This super tight, brilliantly expressionistic novel is a life-affirming tale of love, despair and recovery. The writing is stunning, peppered with dynamic verbs and compound adjectives to dictate the pace from the off.
Sissy Ben Borek Poetry meets prose in this hyper-original exhilarating journey of a novel. The lines are comedic and musical and playfully problematic.
Queenie Candice Carty-Williams A deservingly seminal text. Queenie’s struggles with love and mental health are resoundingly relatable in the current climate and are skillfully addressed in this romp of a book. Unputdownable.
Stubborn Archivist Yara Rodriquez Fowler Vivid and melodic. Written with such vibrancy and pace, the originality of how the story unfolds on the page illuminates the theme of identity expertly.
Your Fault Andrew Cowan This inventive novel, told entirely in the second person, quietly captures the memory of childhood with a delicate subtlety that makes every line lift off the page.
Convenience Store Woman Sayaka Murata Strangely comic yet beautifully tender. The writing in this quirky little novel manages to capture the profound vulnerability of the central character’s struggle to conform to societal expectations with both humour and sensitivity.
What Red Was Rosie Price Profoundly vivid writing, the difficult themes of this book are masterfully explored and fearlessly described.
Happy 1st Publication Birthday to The 392!
Get your copy at our online store, OWNIT.LONDON/SHOP
By Kevin George, for soccology.com – Check out more of Kevin’s blog posts + information on Mental Health, Football Intelligence and how Soccology is continuously developing new ways to improve the human experience and change the world! Visit www.soccology.com
With the Heads Up campaign in football bringing thousands of more eyes to mental health, I thought to use the extra attention to diversify the conversation and focus on how trauma affects behaviour.
There are people all over the world that do not achieve their potential. Some achieve great things, but still, not what they were potentially capable of, due to trauma. In this blog, I’m referring to vulnerable and at-risk footballers. Footballers that are exposed to high levels of adversity in their childhood, those who get support but not the type of support they need. The clubs and the player’s friends tell them to do better, but they can’t, they ask the player what’s wrong, but the player cannot articulate their emotions.
I will focus on how trauma manifests itself within the footballers we see as “bad boys”, leaning on history, science and the biography of a former elite player, with the objective of developing empathetic understanding.
To give you a thorough understanding of how childhood affects behaviour in football, retirement and how football clubs can improve to become therapeutic hubs for change, I will use Jermaine Pennant as a case study.
Pennant’s story is a representation of thousands of players that share similar stories to his. Stories of past traumas that unconsciously dictate behaviour in the present, especially when tough times arise. Behaviour that is often followed by being misunderstood and misdiagnosed.
Ironically, I started writing this a day before the Sky Sports News story (pictured) broke. Pennant and myself had planned to do a prison program together and I wanted to use his biography as an example of how we are failing the youth.
“I knew and had seen things at such an early age that most adults will never see in their lives.”
– Jermaine Pennant
Adverse childhood experiences
Pennant and myself were in the same age group during our football years, so we played against each other when he was at Arsenal, and I was at Charlton Athletic during our youth team days. Years later, I stayed at his apartment when he played for Birmingham City and I was on trial at Walsall. He is a fun and happy-go-lucky guy. I knew little about Pennant’s childhood, as it wasn’t something that we had spoken about. Pretty much like most connections in football.
I began to get curious about his childhood when I created Soccology, so when he released his biography, ‘Mental’ I was keen to read it. After reading the book, I had learnt that Pennant’s experiences consisted of –
Being abandoned by his mum
Being told his mum was dead only to find out she was still alive.
Dad selling drugs.
Dad being addicted to drugs.
Being neglected by dad.
Pennant being exposed to gang culture.
Witnessing a murder and questioned in relation to it, at fourteen.
Racially abused by grandmother.
Left to bring himself up.
“There’s a lot of stuff that I bottled up through my family, a lot of issues and anything to do with emotion. I had no one to turn to, no one to talk it through with. Most kids have a mum or a dad to talk things through and say, ‘Mum, this happened. Can you help? I had none of that.”
– Jermaine Pennant
Adverse childhood experiences can plague a life for decades. In 1995 there was a study carried out among 17,500 middle-class Americans in San Francisco. The study looked at the different types of adversity children were exposed to, from physical abuse to a family member going to prison. The study was to assess the impact childhood adversity has on health and behaviour in adult life.
The study is called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), I had the pleasure of being sent documentation on the ACE Study by one of the co-creators Dr Vincent Felitti. Reading through the ACE Study helped me to have a clearer understanding of how multiple traumas affect an individual. More specifically to football, it helped me to understand why those given multiple chances, struggle to make good use of them.
When you fill out the adversity questionnaire for the ACE Study, for each adverse experience you get one point/one ACE. After gathering data from the study, Dr Felitti and co-creator Dr Robert Anda came to the conclusion that if a child is exposed to a certain amount of ACEs, they were more likely to be a victim of substance abuse, physical and mental health problems. For example, having six or more ACES (out of ten) puts you at risk of being 4600% times more likely to be addicted to substances and 3150% to take your own life. When I read Pennant’s book a few months back, from memory I can say that he has five ACEs, if I were to go through his book again, with the intention of looking for ACEs, I’m sure I would find more.
Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the malleability of our brains, due to our brains being constantly shaped by our experiences. Our brains have billions of neurons that constantly transmit information from the environments we are exposed to, every thought or emotion creates a neural pathway, and with each thought, we create a new way of being. The new neural connections change the structure of our brain.
This is great if we are in a loving and safe environment. If exposed to unpredictable and high levels of stress, the brain will produce adrenaline and cortisol from our adrenal glands. Affecting functionality in the brain, as cortisol is toxic to developing neural networks, creating problems for nerve cells as they try to connect. The adrenaline (neuro-transmitter) also confuses the neural networks. Young people exposed to different types of adversity, have the development of their neural networks stunted.
How does this affect physical health? There’s a higher risk of terminal diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
How does this affect mental health? There’s a higher risk of being depressed and anxious.
How does this affect behaviour? More likely to participate in high-risk behaviour and find it difficult to regulate emotions, leading to aggressive behaviour, failure to adhere to boundaries etc.
What the ACE Study and neuroscience reveals, is that our opinion, money or a football contract doesn’t mean much when it comes to housing trauma. When adversity gets exposed to a young life, like other experiences it becomes part of that life, negatively affecting development; biologically and neuro-chemically. The negative effects can be reversed if treated as a health problem and not a behavioural problem.
Frustration, given time, completely overwhelmed me and shaped everything that went wrong for me.”
– Jermaine Pennant
A game of frustration
Pennant grew up without boundaries, boundaries to run the rule over his behaviour and deliver consequences, as most young people have. We, the majority take this education for granted, boundaries at home exercise the ability to manage frustrations and perceptual injustices bestowed upon us by authority (parents), giving us experience in how to work/adhere to the “system”. Being the majority, we expect others to of had similar boundaries, as part of their upbringing and for them to behave in a manner that reflects this experience. If they don’t, then they are “rude”, “mental”, “disrespectful” and a host of other judgements.
Footballers globally, go through a great deal of frustrations and perceptual injustices, daily. With the training grounds producing more wailing chorus’ than neonatal units, as players vent their frustrations in training and on the phone to their agents. It’s an emotional theme park!
They push their bodies to the limit only to be dropped, not picked and other experiences that see their career go backwards in the moment. They then become overwhelmed with stress that manifests itself in unique ways, ways they will be judged, criticised and punished for.
Pennant felt that he deserved his chance at Arsenal, although he respected the great players that were ahead of him, he was frustrated by his lack of opportunities. His frustration could have been simmered, if his behaviour was met with more curiosity and fewer punishments. His frustrations escalated into self-sabotaging behaviours, like partying and drinking.
Some need to spill out and some need to be contained
In therapy, some people see me because they need me to emotionally hold them. They are spilling out everywhere and they just want to be contained. Others are contained, too contained. From an early age, they have been told/taught to suppress their feelings and after years of doing so, they get to a point of needing to release them. They need a safe environment to emotionally expose those themselves, one that will take time, as trust will be a key element.
Providing the arena of need will help the person move towards being their true self, as a person and on the pitch as a player! Rules are for everyone but the best leaders look to the individuals and tweak the rules to their needs, whilst keeping everybody else happy.
Pennant played some of his best football under Steve Bruce at Birmingham City FC. He shares openly in his biography how he repeatedly got into trouble, yet Steve Bruce always picked him and he always produced top performances for Bruce. I am not surprised that Pennant performed well under Bruce and that he enjoyed his free rein. Bruce created an environment of familiarity for Pennant, he recreated his childhood. A place with little, to no consequences. Not to say that Pennant didn’t get fined for his misdemeanours, but he was still able to do what he wanted most of all and that was to play football. Freedom.
“Some people find solace in the chaos.”
I am not saying that you should allow the player to do what they want, but you must consider the player when setting boundaries. If I were to coach Pennant he would be given greater freedom than others and over time I would slowly enforce more boundaries. Drastic change doesn’t work, ask those that diet. It has to be small change over time.
Bruce’s treatment of Pennant isn’t a one-off, and Bruce himself may have been inspired by his old manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s way of managing his old team mate, Eric Cantona. Cantona would turn up late to team engagements and wear the wrong attire. Sir Alex Ferguson, known for the hairdryer treatment, allowed this behaviour because he felt that if he changed Cantona in one area, it would have a knock-on effect in another (his game). I have not read up on Cantona, but my assumption is that there may be a link to powerlessness/dysfunctional relationships with authority in his past, which may be the reason for the need to take control in other areas. Control during his playing career, being the need to wear what he wants and turn up when he wants.
Ferguson allowed Cantona to spill out in areas that were trivial in the grand scheme of things, to achieve bigger and more and important things. It’s a worthy trade-off that worked! Roy Keane speaks about Eric Cantona’s resistance to the team’s code of conduct in his biography. Ryan Giggs also spoke about seeing Cantona as the Boss’ favourite in an interview, and that if it didn’t work there would have been a rebellion from his team-mates. It’s a gamble for the coach but one they must be fully committed to, otherwise it will almost be certain to fail.
What Bruce and Ferguson did was provide buffers for their players, by tailoring the environment to their needs. Some of the best players, are the best because of their traumatic lives. Signing a player who has different needs must be met with a unique and patient approach.
Change represents chaos to human beings. Our whole world and everything we know becomes outdated and we become lost in something new. Chaos is a part of coaching. Working with different generations from different backgrounds continuously outdates your experience. This is a huge strain but it’s part of the job. A player has to play for a coach with different expectations and beliefs that clash with their own, this is chaos for the player, it’s also part of their job. Less judgement and more support provide buffers to both coach and player in the long run, absorbing the unneeded stress.
“I didn’t get the support, the upbringing of a normal person who handle a few setbacks and disappointments. I brought myself up.”
– Jermaine Pennant
Lack of attachment
When you look at Pennant’s life, everything that he has got into trouble for links back to three points, his patterns have been consistently communicated through his behaviour, throughout his career.
Failure to stay within boundaries
Struggle to manage frustrations
Pursuit of women (fill void left by mum)
All three in one way or another link to a lack of attachment, he never had a secure person to attach to and feel safe. He grew up in a chaotic environment, that he then internalised and projected through his behaviour.
“I just didn’t realise at the time just how much it would affect me.”
– Jermaine Pennant
I came to these conclusions myself however, when I met with Pennant to discuss the joint prison project, I shared what I had concluded from reading his book. He said with a burst of energy “you’re right!”, as though someone finally gets it.
The greater community
Football has people that work tirelessly to support young players and the environment is forever changing but I think more needs to be done when signing vulnerable and at-risk youth. In the Soccology book, I have a chapter talking about similar cases to Pennant’s, players that suffered abandonment, neglect and exposure to aggressive street culture. The same players ended up being neglected and abandoned by football.
Pennant should have been seen as a high threshold safeguarding case from his Notts County days and had a support team around him from the local authority and mirrored by the football community as he got older.
Pennant was seen as a bad boy, when in fact he was exposed to bad things when he was a boy.
What can football do?
Respect the individual. I’ve spoken about how we can improve the support offered BUT we must wait for when that person is ready, and not when we feel it’s ready.
Club therapists must help the player in revisiting the root of the problem to change how they see and feel about it, otherwise, they will either not survive in the environment or they will turbulently make it through their career and life.
Coaches must liaise with support staff with regards to the management of safeguarding cases.
Coaches to seek advice from support staff in terms of how safeguarding issues could spill out into the football arena e.g. Pennant struggling to manage frustration. A common case is transferred from an abusive father, projected onto the relationship with the coach, due to the coach’s aggressive style.
Coaches to seek psycho-education. This blog is why I champion therapy being part of the coaching syllabus.
Welfare staff must be brave enough to challenge coaching staff. If the coach is the problem, young players will need welfare staff to step up and represent them.
Chief execs to invest in people development. Pennant was able to achieve many great things during his career, imagine if he was able to disempower his past? Football is big business, for a small investment in welfare you can get big performances and fees in return.
For more information on how to better support players from a coaches perspective click here, from a parents perspective click here, and on everything football from a holistic point of view, you can buy the Soccology book available at WWW.OWNIT.LONDON/SHOP at all major outlets.
We’re so sad to have to share that today we lost Stuart Goodman to COVID-19. We were lucky enough to publish his book ‘One Saturday in 82 on Broadway Market’ two weeks ago today.
We weren’t able to go ahead with the launch and most shops had closed at that point but that didn’t stop the swell of support and love for the book. We’re so thankful that Stuart got a chance to see how well received and loved his work was.
Stuart at the time we published his book was 72. Brought up on a council estate in Hackney, he went on to work as a Fleet Street press snapper and picture editor for over 25 years. The minute we saw Stuart’s photos we knew we wanted to publish his book and the minute we met him we knew he was one of us.
It’s a privilege to publish ‘One Saturday in 82 on Broadway Market’ and to have had the chance to work with Stuart. It’s such an important book, one that captures and preserves a time and community which would otherwise be easily forgotten. Stuart will never be forgotten. He was part of the OWN IT! family and he lives on through the beautiful photographs and words he left with us.
When we watch film, TV, documentaries and live performance, I assume we all want to be immersed in a new perspective and an experience expressible within our intelligible world. When familiar or merely astonished, we can denote what makes a good, great or at times even spectacular showing. Hence foreign films tend to be refreshing spectacles, introductions into new modes of life our socially convenient bubbles may not invite. Unless you are a cinephile decorated with an eccentric range of appreciation or a regular cinema-goer and movie fanatic with a string of foreign cult classics under your belt. Or simply a socially aware and engaged member of our society. We parade the in things – until the algorithm dwindles and it is onto the next in thing. If you are not a movie lover, Parasite may just sound like another foreign subtitled film you will never see. Which makes sense, foreign films tend to be hard to find, inaccessible, unless lined and suggested by our now many streaming services.
Though the hype around the masterpiece of Parasite is truly
justified. It is nothing short of a remarkable cinema experience. It is
magnificently directed and written by one of the stars of Korean New Wave
Cinema the now renowned Bong Joon-Ho. Korean New Wave Cinema emerged on the
back end of foreign films in Korea, having screen quota laws, limiting the
number of days they could play in theatres. This was done to prevent a
Hollywood film monopoly extending over their shores and prompted the Korean
film industry to look at itself. The wave has been a reaction to what many of
its proponents have described as stemming from changes of the cultural and
political landscape. With incredible and/or internationally acclaimed films
like Oldboy, My Sassy Girl and Joint Security Area, Parasite marks another film
stemming from this commendable wave of film. Parasite received the illustrious
Palme d’Or, the highest winnable award at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
It also swept up at the Academy Awards winning Best Picture, the first foreign
film to do so, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International
Feature Film. In total so far Parasite has won 185 of its 300 award
nominations, which exemplifies the high praise the film has commanded.
In short, Parasite is a dark comedy, which draws upon themes from other genres in an emphatic, genre-blending tale, fixated on class consciousness. It contains aspects of romance but is upheld by cornerstones of infectious comedy, even though in many moments the film seeps into the anxiety of thrillers. It deserves a non-spoiler, no trailer, watch. It whisks this all together with mystery, social realism and aspects of a class-conscious through drama. Hence this is built up in a Shakespearean manner, a collation of so many themes it screens as an entertaining experience. The film had me spellbound to the screen from the beginning. Bong Joon-ho noted an inspiration for this film came in the 1960 melodrama The Housemaid, a house divided by two stories and a tale revolving around class itself. For most of his work, Bong Joon-Ho’s ideas carry an emphasis on class, genre, and films that resonate with an intrigued audience. From the first scene of Parasite it sinks you into class consciousness. The scene dictates character, enamours colour to infer state and space to a point you can be fixated on these factors as important, as the film plays out. It instils the identities of the characters very well by their outlook and space, and it begins with its focus on the Kim family.
The Kim family is led by Bong Joon-Ho’s long time acting companion Song Kang-ho. Song Kang-ho has featured in many of Bong’s previous projects, and he plays the Father of the family in Parasite as Kim Ki-taek. He is a fluid man, in a sense of attempting to weave his way to be better. No matter the circumstance, Kim Ki-taek lives in respect of the randomness that is life. Noting in a scene “the best plan is no plan”. Alongside him the cast is brilliant, and you could gauge their mood through tone, expression, and a budding score that at times frolicked between the comedic moments and fell deaf or zoned in worry when necessary. There were times within this film I cried with laughter, gasped with sheer shock, and winced at the rawness of many moments. The comedy left a lasting impression on me, how well worked and refreshing it was to see comedic spiel from another walk of life. Bong Joon-Ho described his adoration for Song Kang-ho’s acting skills insofar as he has mastered the bridging of genres through subtle moments within his acting. This was evident within the film, as his character carries a splitting tone that may weigh different in distinction to the other’s. It worked supremely well with the compounding of the genres, as it felt as if I watched even expectations of him as a man, which are brought into question until you realise this is their livelihood and we are privy to their actions and desires within it.
The story revolves around the maintenance of the Kim family who live in a shoddy half-basement. A banjiha, which in Korean means a cramped basement flat. The contrast to the rich Park family, who live in a mansion, cleaned and organised by a house nanny, are driven around by a hired driver, and live perched upon a fortune. Though affordable, the living conditions of the half-basement are nonetheless degrading. It is prone to drunken urinating passers-by, road dust, pollutants and anti-pollutant forces. They are hidden away from view, and scheme in what feels like the underbelly of society. This is where I got the first impression of colours. The stark pale green, dirtied walls and hoarded rooms, almost vacant light glistening through the window. The lack of movement of the camera, which brings the claustrophobic habitat of the Kim family to a still. This is what it is. It peers out into a buzzing town through an almost unnoticeable window that peeps over ground from the under. The Park family’s mansion sits upon a Hill, in which one must go upward to reach, which is telling of social hierarchy. The space is bountiful, the green and garden expansive, and each room wider than the entirety of the Kim family’s home.
The scenes manoeuvre around space as it points toward its multi-layered considerations of class. Such as the difference in family structures, and their financial afflictions. The difference in passion and willingness, and their relationships within them. The Kim family are poor, their home is considerably dirty and confined by juxtapose over the course of the film. They are parasitic in behaviour as they attempt to leech off whatever comes their way. Whether it be more shifts, a new job, surrounding free WiFi services that span their area, and fortunes they may not be willing to share. They attempt to maximise opportunity as a necessity rather than want, which is a luxury they do not seem to have. Though what I felt was not a disgust or sheer empathy, but an understanding of their relationship as a poor family attempting to make ends meet through each other. Even in watching for the first time with a friend, he made me realise this family share a strong similarity with other identities in such a position. For instance, our West African heritage, in which utilising what we must to survive and thriving through the dark to make ends meet, is a usual pattern to succeed. The subtle comedic jabs build a comfortability, one in which a family living in recognition of their circumstances, can make. The eagerness to grasp the opportunity and steer clear of situations that could damage that is costly. The way in which the Kim family act, sells this position as a reality, this is how some people are forced to live by the roll of the social dice that is class and status from birth.
Parasite rests on that class consciousness and projection of space by highlighting the division and difference in people. Though the injections of other themes like the aspects of thriller and at times otherworldly appeal are absorbing to a point where they add a wider context to the film. The families are initially introduced through Ki-woo’s, the son of the Kim family, friend Min-hyuk – who needed Ki-woo to replace him as a tutor at this rich family’s home. A successful college student, Min-hyuk trusts Ki-woo to replace and look after Da-Hye for him, who he has fallen for and encourages Ki-woo to take advantage of this opportunity to make money. This scenario is true to a degree, taken from Bong Joon-Ho’s experience of being a tutor to a rich family – he has some first-hand experience. Ki-woo is dubbed as Kevin, English named as one of the subjects he teaches would be, hired by the Mother to teach Da-Hye. This is where the movement and interest of the cinematography expand to allow the spaciousness to uphold the contrast as an issue, or rather something to manipulate.
As rich and successful as the Park family seem to be, their relaxed behaviour and lapsed life together as a family unit, is not as strong or rather parasitic as the Kim family who move in unison like a rampant virus. The mansion is towering, ceiling raised, opposed to boxed, like the cramped half-basement. There is a boom in hue with beautiful brown and an abundance of light. The gorgeous home and non-suffocating room, an elevation in comparison to the sunken atmosphere the half-basement hosts, is somewhat belittling to witness but a testament to a change in the environment that Kevin and his family yearns for. Though Kevin also recognises the social hierarchy that comes with such territory. To escape the conceded tragedy that is their home and situation, the Kim family must grasp for more – and the film exacts this journey through a tremendous 2 hour and 10-minute trial of a film.
Production Company: DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment,
New Republic Pictures, Mogambo, Neal Street Productions, Amblin Partners
The Great War is more often explored in soundbites and grey scenes of soldiers venturing into unfathomable conditions. States of combat and invigorative warfare, aided by the technological advancements and challenges in the dawn of the 20th century, which beckoned the destruction anthropogenic intelligence would produce with years to come. Instruments of mass justified killing, conflicting nude morals paraded without the shame turned to civil society’s, which comes into play when the world seeps into a consciousness of war. Though machinery, shell shock, and the metallic consequences of war, were not so relevant in this breath-taking spectacle of a film, that uplifts the human conditioning and lack of resource as its main contention of war. 1917 assured viewers were immersed in aspects of this Great War. It boasts a simple yet death-defying plot, following the mission of Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and his favoured comrade Lance Corporal Schofield (George Mackay) on a seemingly endless journey to deliver a message to hold back an attack on a suspicious retreating German force to the Hindenburg Line. Though this straightforward plot infused with an entrancing and very much heroic do or die endeavour is fixated on these two characters, it is enamoured with a continuous sequence of shots which had me second-guessing when they actually broke to capture another scene.
1917 boasts brilliant cinematography, it stands as a character in itself. You watch the lens pan and manoeuvre around bumping bodies bobbling through crowded trenches, swerving to capture raw emotion in facial expressions, and signifying a horror of unease by environment by featuring the waste and nature working its way around it, whether through decay or insects circling its deceased prey. The indicating movement of scenes amounts tension where it needs to be. At times I felt a genuine fear for the main characters mission and the journey they embarked on. It also encouraged growing favour of these characters and their personal ambitions, the way they narrated their own experiences and livelihoods, with only several moments of relief from the realities of this tremendous scale of warfare managing to segregate the blended imaginative scenes which depicted it. The splendid examination of everything produced a war film I had never seen before.
Some of these moments were representationally honest, shedding light on a Sikh soldier, picturing a few Black soldiers plotted in different battalions. It was somewhat refreshing and not lingering on a force, though makes me consider when we will get a wartime film based on such experiences. The blend of accents from all over Britain also infers the interconnectivity of these great Wars. In many moments I found myself at the edge of my seat, cemented in the danger and paranoia of this mission. The well worked settings of trenches, and contrast of materials and crafting by the efficient and more technologically readied Germans to the more honest and at times random livelihoods of the British. I feel this is displayed to show some backward amounted respect. The old, now not so contentious rivalry of two former grand nations enthused with their own greatness. Even the much more sudden depictions of the German soldiers make them seem like bodies, human beings, plus ones experiencing the gruesomeness of war similarly to the British. Some shots and scenes were ethereal, despite being led into by existential views of the fragility of these human beings enveloped by war.
This is another war film captivated by the individual, the human state of mind, and the hideousness of this Great War from an unseen angle. In bits it gave me vibes of Saving Private Ryan, though with a scope of a thriller attached and the perks of a huge never-ending setting. The thriller came in horrific shots of ambiguity that made me witness these characters as just bodies in numbers, in the dark, and individuals with immaterial weights of their family, friends and ultimately mission by war. Sam Mendes is a brilliant Director, and some of the thriller vibes I acknowledged from the film Road To Perdition (2002) where shots so dark but lit by accessories of the scene, like headlights, weathering, gunfire and shadow, sink you into story. In the same respect Mendes demands your attention in periods it is merely observing. Considering how some events occur, the element of worry deters you from taking your eyes off this film. My favourite moment comes during a burst of pace and movement through the depths of night, where the impression of bodies really drew me in. Where bodies illuminated by flares, gracing the shadows with some visibility. The outlines of figures in the distance, with not so much emphasis on their insignia or brand, added to the paranoia of living through such dangerous encounters.
It was visually emphatic, from beginning to end, and the blend of immense actors in this cameo cast is brilliant. They interject with prowess and carry the film in those segregated moments commendably. The likes of Colin Firth, as General Erinmore, the man who gave the mission, Mark Strong as Captain Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie, Daniel Mays as Sergeant Sanders, and a Stark in Richard Madden who plays the brother of Lance Corporal Blake, Lieutenant Joseph Blake. The acting was all around wonderful, and it made it that much more exciting to see such a prominent cast accept these supporting roles. As well as the beautiful visuals, 1917’s score withdrew more suspense as it engaged with the grittiness of the situations. Even though dialogue was controlling enough, the score was planted mindfully, setting off like mines in moments of unease, such as breaching secure lines for the enemy’s and venturing into the wilderness of unseeing light. As well as those clean transitions of scenes, the score lulls you into a change of tone and mood. This is masterfully done, and in an odd way it reminded me of the Joker. It felt as if the score was engineered for these moments perfectly.
In short, 1917 is a stunning spectacle that commands respect. While it was expected to continue the theme of War films sweeping the best awards at the Oscars, Parasite (2019) had seemingly buried expectations by collecting Best Picture. To trump this grand film in its moment of glory surely infers something great to me, hence I expect to review it next.