The Somme valley, 1916: while a major offensive is being planned against the Germans, a reduced British force holds the front line, just 400 yds from the enemy. They're the usual mixed bunch: middle class officer (Rhind-Tutt), plagued by self-doubt; career soldier Sgt Winter (Craig); and the ordinary volunteers - some of them blustery braggarts, some gently sensitive, some cynical, like Daventry (D'Arcy), about the top brass's handling of the war, and others, like young Billy (Nicholls), simply determined to do their best for king and country. What few suspect and none know is that in two days' time they'll be taking part in the most disastrous battle in the history of the British army. In some respects, novelist and screenwriter Boyd's directing debut doesn't have a lot going for it. First, it covers much the same hallowed ground as Great War dramas like Journey's End and Paths of Glory; secondly, with its modest budget and Boyd's slightly stolid approach to the visualisation of his story, we're never able to forget it's set throughout in a studio trench. That said, the claustrophobia contributes to an effective build-up of tension, and the film is actually very engrossing, partly due to the clarity, wit and assurance of Boyd's writing, partly to an excellent cast. Not original, then, but in its own old-fashioned, unpretentious way, impressive and affecting.
Cast and crew