PhD researcher Lizzie Hibbert reflects on Sam Mendes’s First World War epic 1917. Please note: this piece contains spoilers!
Sam Mendes’s 1917 (2019) is as much a film about time as it is about war. The first indication of this comes in the film’s trailer, which is set to a soundtrack of ticking clocks. It opens on a wide shot of an un-helmeted British soldier running perpendicular to advancing troops towards the camera. The reedy ‘tick… tock…’ of a watch is just audible beneath ominous music and accelerating bootsteps. Suddenly we are underground by torchlight, and the ticking has transformed into the weighty, echoing hands of a pendulum clock. There is a split second of silence and then an explosion.
by Clare Pettitt, Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature and Culture, Department of English
“The first action of the battle of Manchester is over”, wrote Major Dyneley of the 15th Hussars, “& has, I am happy to say ended in the complete discomfiture of the Enemy.” At 4 pm on August 16, 1819, Dyneley was already back in the Hulme Barracks with his regiment. The “Enemy” was the 60,000 to 80,000 people, most of them textile workers, who had assembled that morning in St Peter’s Field on the outskirts of Manchester city centre, to hold a peaceful demonstration to protest against the Corn Laws, and to call for parliamentary reform. The Enemy was the people. And discomfited they had surely been.
Henry Hunt, the orator who had addressed the meeting briefly before being arrested and beaten up, said that the Manchester Yeomanry, volunteers who made the first incursion into the crowd, before the Hussars, had “charged amongst the people, sabring right and left, in all directions. Sparing neither age,sex, nor rank”. It all happened very quickly. Ten minutes after the first charge, William Joliffe remembered that “the ground was quite covered with hats, shoes, musical instruments and other things”. Another eyewitness recounted that, “[s]everal mounds of human beings still remained where they had fallen, crushed down and smothered.
In 2013, the King’s Centre for Modern Literature and Culture (CMLC) was founded and launched its annual prize for Creative Responses to Modernism. Since then, postgraduate students working in modernist studies have been invited to submit their responses to modernism and its artistic explosions in whatever art form seems most appropriate. For some entrants, these have been homages, pastiches or parodies; submissions have both continued and challenged the modernist project. The centre and prize are run by Dr Lara Feigel and Professor Erica Carter.