Sam Mendes was determined not to make his war film 1917 feel like a history lesson.
The Skyfall director’s new movie tells the fictional story of two soldiers in France during WWI who are tasked with crossing enemy territory and delivering a warning which could save about 1,600 lives, and Mendes was determined to give audiences an idea of what the conflict was like for the men on the ground rather than give them information about the war as a whole.
“I was very conscious not to make a history lesson. I think most of us know how the war ended but I think that I felt from the very beginning that this movie could be about two British soldiers, but it could easily be two German soldiers, Belgian soldiers – it’s about the experience of war, rather than the historical moments,” he explained during a press conference in London.
“But I believe through the micro – through details, through individuals – you only then begin to see the macro, the scale of what they see through a tiny keyhole of one man’s experiences, you see the panorama of death and destruction that was the Great War.”
The filmmaker was inspired to create a WWI film by his grandfather, who had to carry a message as a soldier, but he discovered that the reason why that war isn’t as well represented on screen as WWII, is because the nature of it was “quite static”.
However, through research, he came across a moment in the battle that could work and started writing.
Once he and Krysty Wilson-Cairns completed the screenplay, they realised studio executives might not want to make the risky film, which is presented to audiences as one continuous shot.
“It’s very big, it’s very expensive, it’s got young men in the leads, it’s a risk, but because we hadn’t been paid for it, we could take it to the studios and kind of auctioned for it, which we did. ‘This is going to be expensive, do you want it?’ And luckily, they did,” he said.
1917 is in cinemas now.
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