Written and directed by Phil Stubbs, co-written by Lucy Keal and Jordan Wild, during World War One, a corporal tries to save his young friend from a terrible injustice. Starring: Tom Cuthbertson, Josh Harper, Torin Pocock, Adam Seigel, Jack Alan Major and Andrew Goddard.
Typically modern war stories follow a similar pattern, classic acts of bravery and surviving against the odds, while At Dawn takes a different route. It’s great to see it focus more on the inner conflict and inescapable youth of soldiers, diving into the idea of how they are essentially children so they can’t be expected to act perfectly. Considering that simply because you’re being sent into battle, doesn’t mean you’re impervious to fear. The tone of the story creates a nice balance, it’s neither harsh nor sentimental, landing somewhere in the middle, to be emotional and thoughtful.
It has a strong atmosphere right from the start, opening with a simple, quiet and refined style. Most often films surrounding such conflict can go in heavy but Phil Stubbs holds back and focuses on a more personal angle. The cinematography (by Alice Hughes) does extremely well to capture the feel of the era, the hue is perfect. Stubbs’ direction is subtle, evolving as the story moves forward but consistently holding onto a pensive, understated style.
Another element that’s immediately noticeable is the actors’ use of a classic Queen’s English accent, strongly throwing back to early 1900s Britain. It’s a great ensemble, with a quick exception of one brief reaction which goes over the top fighting against the more restrained tone. Otherwise, the performances are all solid, while the majority portray the authoritative, stern side, while Tom Cuthbertson is a standout as the lone man of empathy. His fight to save his friend turning into a wall of compassion supporting him as he faces unjustifiably harsh punishment, is a true show of friendship. Cuthbertson gives a very convincing performing which is touching and compelling.
At Dawn brings a new perspective to war stories, the shocking amount of fresh-faced, inexperienced young men, barely out of childhood that were sent onto the battlefield in WWI is not a factor often explored. It has a thoughtful style to its direction, understated but easily grasping the ethical and emotional aspects to its story. There’s a strong cast led confidently by a hugely sympathetic and kind portrayal from Tom Cuthbertson. It’s a nice change of pace to see a war story approached from a different angle and an impressive debut short from Stubbs, who went on to direct his first feature in 2020 Last Chancers.