When Push Comes To Shovel: Trench Warfare On The Silver Screen

The harsh realities of trench warfare are brought to life in the new First World War drama THE WAR BELOW, starring Sam Hazeldine from Peaky Blinders. Based on an actual tale of extraordinary wartime derring-do – about a maverick plan to defeat the German army during the brutal and bloody Battle of Messines in 1917 – the film joins the illustrious ranks of outstanding WW1 films that take place in the trenches and show the bravery of young men facing unimaginable hardship and terror.

1917 (2019)

An ideal companion piece to THE WAR BELOW, Sam Mendes’ Oscar-winning film (drawn from his grandfather’s written account of his time during WW1), sees two young soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) sent on a mission from the British trenches, to warn an advancing battalion that it is walking into an enemy trap which will result in a massacre. Filmed in what appears to be a single, fluid tracking shot, across bloodied and muddied no man’s land and rat-infested trenches, this is an impressive, and nerve-wracking, piece of WW1 cinema.


Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent (anti)-war film is based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb (which was inspired by actual events), and stars Kirk Douglas, never better as a WW1 French commanding officer who must follow the suicidal order from above of sending his troops into battle, when he knows there’s no chance of success, and little of survival. Filmed in stark black and white, with blunt, brutal dialogue co-written by hardboiled writer Jim Thompson, the film really gets across the claustrophobia and squalor of the trenches, in stark contrast to the well-appointed drawing rooms where the orders are sent down from.


Mel Gibson stars in this stunning film from Australian director Peter Weir (Master and Commander), about two sprinters who join the Australian army and end up in the trenches on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey during WW1, fighting the Turks. The film has it all – Gibson on top form, the horrors of war, and a heartstopping finale.


Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, is considered one the greatest war novels of all time – telling the story of a young German soldier filled with patriotism, Paul Baumer, going into the trenches during WW1, and discovering comradeship, despair and devastation. The book has been adapted several times (a German Netflix production of the book is currently being made), but Lewis Milestone’s 1930 version, starring Lew Ayres as Paul, is arguably the best.


Sam Clafin (Peaky Blinders) is Captain Stanhope, in charge of a group of officers in a trench on the Western Front in 1918, at the mercy of an enemy attack. Unfortunately, Stanhope is a burnt-out alcoholic, and a power struggle that will decide the fate of the soldiers ensues. With an outstanding cast, including Stephen Graham (The Irishman), Paul Bettany (WandaVision), Toby Jones (Atomic Blonde) and Asa Butterfield (Hugo), director Saul Dibb’s film, based on the stage play by R.C.Sheriff, is gripping and resonant.


Written and directed by William Boyd, The Trench stars a pre-James Bond Daniel Caig, and his Bond co-star Ben Wishaw in his film debut, as soldiers waiting in the trenches before the 1916 Battle of the Somme – regarded as one of the deadliest battles in history, fought over nearly five months and resulting in one million men either killed or wounded. Boyd’s film captures the nerve-straining anticipation of going into combat, and possibly death, while confined in “a place 8ft wide, 600 miles long, man-made and God-forsaken.”


In the midst of the great war, Colonel “Hellfire Jack” hatches a daring plan to break the deadly stalemate at the Battle of Messines. He recruits a group of local miners (led by Peaky Blinders star Sam Hazeldine)to dig a tunnel underneath no man’s land, from the allied trenches to the German trenches, in hopes of successfully setting off bombs from below the German line. It’s a thrilling story, brilliantly told, and you’ll be rooting for the miners all the way.