Stupid remarks from actor Laurence Fox arrive like buses. But you don’t want to hop on board. First there was his ill-graced outburst on the BBC’s Question Time. Then he wrote in the Sunday Times that he won’t date woke women (encouraging news for woke women, I’d say).
Now, Fox has a go at director Sam Mendes for including a Sikh character in his magnificent war movie 1917.
I have gathered you here to discuss that film, and not the latest puff of petulance from Fox. But let’s stick with him for now.
As reported by Mail Online, Fox criticises Mendes for including a Sikh soldier in his First World War drama.
Ignoring all the many fine aspects of this film, the actor instead picks out a small scene in the back of a jolting truck. Among the squashed-in soldiers is Sepoy Jondalar, played by Nabhaan Rizwan.
The Mail quotes Fox from an appearance on James Delingpole’s podcast (Delingpole is a right-wing commentator and editor of Breitbart London) – “It’s like, ‘There were Sikhs fighting in this war’… OK now you are diverting me away from what the story is. There is something institutionally racist about forcing diversity on people in that way.”
There was me thinking Sikhs took part in the war, joining the western front as early as September 1914, and playing a crucial role in the first battle of Ypres – a role that was not acknowledged afterwards.
If Mendes has played with history, it is in the representative sense of placing one Sikh soldier in that truck, rather than alongside other Sikhs. It hardly matters.
This film is an epic, a rush of unrelenting motion. It is beautifully made and completely immersive. The acting is note-perfect, especially from George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman, the two unknown actors playing young soldiers who attempt to make their way behind enemy lines on April 6, 1917.
Their mission is to deliver a message that will divert a regiment from going over the top and into a German trap. It is not possible to give further details for fear of letting slip a spoiler.
Mendes gives 1917 a sense of unstoppable propulsion by using the single continuous shot (as he did earlier in the memorable Day of the Dead opening sequence in the Bond film Spectre).
Cinematographer Roger Deakins adopts that technique here. Segments are captured with a single continuous shot, then stitched together so seamlessly it is impossible to see where the filming stops and starts.
It’s a little like being in a computer game: you are right with the characters, you step where they step, you fear what they fear.
As the story hurtles, slips and slides on, every moment is vivid. One bullet comes so close you feel yourself duck. A dogfight in the sky above a muddy field suddenly descends to horror; a tripwire in an underground trench ratchets up the tension horribly.
The design by Dennis Gassner is so convincing, you can almost smell the mud and all that deliquescent flesh, feel the breath of passing rats. A great score, too, from Thomas Newman. Much is barely music at all, merely gathering tension made edgy sound, only then to soar and swell beautifully.
In that computer game analogy, we are swept along through bombed-out farms, pass among the bricks of a shelled-out town at night, the danger forgotten for a second in the enchantment of a fire-red sky.
Towards the end we emerge from a river swollen with rotten bodies to end up in a wood where a British soldier sings The Wayfaring Stranger unaccompanied to his fellow troops sitting on the ground: a deeply affecting moment in a film of unquenchable spirit.
Sam Mendes apparently didn’t respond to the Mail Online’s request for a comment. Perhaps he was happier counting his awards, including ten Oscar nominations.
A truly great film; do go and see it (on the big screen, please).