The Trench

1999, Movie, NR, 99 mins


Without staging massive battle scenes or filling his characters' mouths with fiery rhetoric, novelist and first-time director William Boyd has made a powerful anti-war film. Using a strategy similar to that of DAS BOOT, Boyd distills the horror of war into the plight of a small group of terrified men confined to a tight, claustrophobic space: the narrow, winding trenches of Northern France. The date is June 29, 1916; the place, the Western Front. On the eve of the Battle of the Somme — WWI's largest offensive and the bloodiest battle in the history of the British Army — a group of English soldiers under the command of tippling Second Lieutenant Hart (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and his gruff Sergeant, Telford Winter (Daniel Craig), have dug themselves deep into the labyrinth of trenches snaking across Somme Valley. There they bicker, pass around naughty photos and nervously await their orders while Allied forces bombard the German front line that lies only 400 yards away. Hart's platoon was originally slated to be part of the third wave of the impending charge, but there's a sudden change of plans: He informs Winter that his squad of fresh-faced, inexperienced soldiers will now be among the first out of the trenches for a daylight assault that amounts to a suicide mission. This is All Quiet on the Western Front's flip-side, a tragedy of lost innocence and the terrible waste of young men's lives seen from the English side of no man's land. Boyd, whose grandfather and great-uncle both served in the Great War, tells his story primarily through 17-year-old Billy Mcfarlane (Eastenders heartthrob Paul Nicholls), an underage lad from Wickham who follows his older brother into the Army. Tony Pierce-Robert's camera never ventures outside of the trenches until the film's final, excruciating moments, when the boys attempt to cross the incongruously green, gently sloping hill where birds can be heard singing and where 20,000 English soldiers will die in a single day. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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