William Boyd, novelist and occasional and occasional screenwriter (notably Chaplin), here picks up the directorial reigns for the first time. Working from his own original screenplay, he delivers a sombre look at a handful of soldiers in the 48 hours leading up to the bloody 1916 Battle Of The Somme.
Billy Macfarlane (Nicholls) is the youngest of the platoon, having enlisted at just 17, in part to be with his older brother Eddie (Tam Williams). But Eddie is soon wounded and on his way back home, leaving his innocent brother behind to face the slow, inevitable countdown to the doomed push forward. Waiting with him are a motley crew of recognisable types - the solid, seen-it-all sergeant, the cowardly officer with the quivering stiff upper lip, the Shakespeare-quoting cynic, and just for variety, a fat Scot who, despite his obvious girth, is the chosen to go on a secret night-time reccy.
All fairly familiar types, and theres a lot of fairly familiar stuff in Boyds WWI drama. Its neatly claustrophobic, set almost entirely, as youd imagine, in a trench, although the lack of cinematic opportunity this presents leaves the whole thing feeling very much like an adapted stage play. The films most powerful moments come from its generally fine ensemble, in particular, the always excellent Craig as the career sergeant. Former EastEnder heartthrob Paul Nicholls is good at doing doomed innocence, but is given little opportunity to do more.
Boyds movie is sincere and at times worthy, but the territory he seeks to map out has been better covered before in places as diverse as Paths Of Glory and, unbelievably, Blackadder.