How the Modern Era Began - in a Trench; British Novelist and Film Maker William Boyd Is to Tell the Story of How He Believes the 20th Century Began: On a Field in France on July 1, 1916. David Luhnow Reports

By Luhnow, David | The Birmingham Post (England), September 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

How the Modern Era Began - in a Trench; British Novelist and Film Maker William Boyd Is to Tell the Story of How He Believes the 20th Century Began: On a Field in France on July 1, 1916. David Luhnow Reports


Luhnow, David, The Birmingham Post (England)


The century officially started earlier, of course, but for Boyd it was on the blood-soaked battlefields of the First World War - and the infamous Battle of the Somme that began on that day - when the Victorian age ended and the modern era was born.

"It's an historical moment that haunts the entire century," said Boyd, whose directorial film debut The Trench deals with the days leading up to the battle and opens across Britain in September. It recently premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

"You could argue that the whole world view changed with that battle," said Boyd, author of such acclaimed novels as Ice Cream War and A Good Man in Africa and a screenwriter whose credits include Chaplin.

July 1, 1916 marked the single bloodiest day in British military history - 60,000 casualties - and the beginning of four months of butchery that killed or wounded a million.

As The Trench shows, the day also marked the beginning of the end of innocence: for the young soldiers, for the biggest empire the world had ever known and for the world that would never again view war in quite the same way.

Set in the deep frontline trenches in the Somme valley in northern France, The Trench tracks a group of young British soldiers in the three days leading up to the battle, choosing to end where most war movies begin their action.

Along the way, the film exposes the young men's fear, anxiety, boredom and animosity as they sit in a trench that has been their makeshift home for weeks, listen to the chilling echo of bombs overhead and await the fateful order to rise above the trench's lip and attack the waiting Germans.

"It's about young men facing death - it could be in Kosovo or Vietnam," Boyd said. The entire film takes place in the trench - a cinematic first in a film about the war and a claustrophobic setting inspired by Wolfgang Peterson's Das Boot about a German U-boat.

"Suddenly I understood what it must have been like to be on a U-boat. And I thought, 'this is how you do the Great War'. You don't need $50 million, but the fear, intensity and remorselessness of 50 yards of trench," Boyd said.

Boyd picked largely unknown actors from British theatre and television for the roles because he wanted fresh faces.

He also wanted it to be as realistic as possible, sending the actors to a British organisation called the Khaki Chums which re-enacts battles for basic training. …

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