The Trench (1999)
Director: William Boyd.
Starring: Paul Nicholls (Pte. Billy Macfarlane), Daniel Craig (Sgt. Telford Winter), Julian Rhind-Tutt (2nd Lt. Ellis Harte), Danny Dyer (Lance Cpl. Victor Dell), James D'Arcy (Pte. Colin Daventry), Tam Williams (Pte. Eddie Macfarlane), Anthony Strachan (Pte. Horace Beckwith), Michael Moreland (Pte. George Hogg), Adrian Lukis (Lt. Col. Villiers), Ciarán McMenamin (Pte. Charlie Ambrose), Cillian Murphy (Rag Rookwood), John Higgins (Pte. Cornwallis), Ben Whishaw (Pte. James Deamis), Tim Murphy (Pte. Bone), Danny Nutt (Pte. Dieter Zimmermann).
1st of July 1916, "The day British idealism died "
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Summer 1916. Northern France. The British army prepares for the biggest offensive of World War I. Hundreds of thousands of troops mass in the rear, waiting for the order to attack. A reduced force is put in place to hold the front line trenches.
June 29, 1916. Somme Valley. In the trenches Billy carries water to his comrades. He brings with him an apple for his brother Eddy. The corporal of the unit has some French postcards that he charges his fellows to look at. The sergeant tells the men to not look out the loop holes because the German snipers killed nine men the previous night.
The men in the forward positions have been promised that they will only go into the attack on the third wave. At least this is some consolation to the men.
Some of the men talk about Tommy who was killed in December of 1914. They note that they have been in France for almost two years now.
June 30. The men are told to "stand to". Some of the guys ask Eddy to look out of the loop hole and tell them what he sees. Eddy stays a little too long at the loop hole and is hit in the face by a bullet from a German sniper's rifle. Bobby is very distraught and the sergeant is mad at those who egged on Eddy. Eddy is taken to the hospital.
Beckwith tells his buddy that on his last leave he got engaged to Amy back home. His buddy Auggie gets mad at him for not telling him and because he liked Amy too.
The Colonel comes around with a film crew to have some pictures taken with the men. He tells the men that it will be an easy walk over to the German lines because after all the bombardments there will be no Germans left alive in the trenches. Indeed, success is guaranteed. Just as the Colonel and film crew start to leave, Daventry makes a wise-ass remark to the Colonel: "You won't be with us." The Colonel is a bit shocked, but recovers and admits that he won't be with the men in the attack. After the Colonel leaves the sergeant takes Daventry aside and warns him that he is watching him and adds: "I'll break you."
Bobby is sent to check on Auggie. He finds only the remains of the body of Auggie, hit by an artillery shell, and is a bit freaked-out by the sight.
The British think that the Germans have dug a forward listening post that they want eliminated. The officer of Bobby's unit tells the sergeant to take whatever men he needs and destroy it. The sergeant decides to take only Beckwith with him. They head out with some explosives. After awhile, the men hear the explosives go off and the sounds of men screaming in pain. The sergeant and Beckwith return to the trenches with a young German prisoner.
July 1. The men awaken at 5:30 and prepare for an attack at 7:30. The sergeant receives the bad news that there has been a mess-up and that his men have to go with the first wave of the attack. Of course, he is extremely disappointed. One of the men shoots himself in the leg. He says it was an accident, but the sergeant does not believe him. The sarge tells the man that that is the end of him.
The corporal is sent to get some liquor so that the men can drink some before they go on the attack. Before he gets back to the sergeant, the corporal starts drinking some of the liquor and gets himself drunk. An artillery shell explodes near him. He survives but the liquor jug is smashed. The sergeant is not too pleased with the corporal when he returns to the lines drunk. The corporal does not want to attack in his drunken state, but the sergeant insists that he get in line with the others to go up and over.
The sarge asks the officer to let the men drink some of his whiskey, but the officer refuses. But as the 7:30 a.m. deadline nears, the officer relents and the men receive their libation.
The sarge tells Billy that he will go up first and Billy will follow him. The whistles blow and the men start climbing the ladders out of the trenches. The sergeant is the first up. He extends his hand down to the hesitating Billy to help him up and is hit with a bullet. The sergeant falls to his knees and then is hit by three more bullets and falls into the trench. Billy goes to check on the sarge.
The officer points his pistol at Billy and tells him to get out of the trench. Billy joins the others. The men run toward the German lines. The corporal receives a bullet to the stomach and goes down. The officer is hit in the head with a bullet and goes down. Beckwith is hit and goes down. Then Billy is struck with a bullet to the head and falls.
Some 60,000 men were killed or wounded in the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Most of the casualties occurred in the first two hours of the battle. It still remains the bloodiest day of slaughter in the history of the British army.
Good movie, but it was a bit slow. It gives the viewers the idea that they are watching a play rather than a movie. Almost all the action occurs in the trenches. The only other action that takes place in another location is on the very nice green grass between the British and German lines. (To be faithful to the real thing, there would have been no grass -- only bomb craters, dead bodies and destruction.) Usually war movies have scenes that stress the camaraderie of the soldiers, but there seemed to be little of that in this movie. There were a lot of fights between the men and little sense that they were in any way a "band of brothers". The most moving part of the movie was at the end when one soldier after another falls in the almost a walk toward the German lines. Daniel Craig as the sergeant was very good.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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