Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 29 March 2020

'1917' heads for Oscars success after sweeping the Golden Globes

The likelihood of Sam Mendes's First World War epic taking home a statue next month has dramatically increased after Sunday's wins

Sam Mendes scored two Golden Globes this week for First World War epic, '1917'. EPA
Sam Mendes scored two Golden Globes this week for First World War epic, '1917'. EPA

Sam Mendes's 1917, an innovative and deeply personal portrayal of the First World War, was launched into contention for Oscars success by its wins at the Golden Globes.

The film, which is inspired by tales Mendes's military veteran grandfather told him as a child, follows two British soldiers on a perilous mission across no man's land to deliver a vital message to abort a planned attack on German lines.

It won best drama, the Globes' most prestigious prize, on Sunday, as well as best director for Mendes, who fended off front-runners such as The Irishman's Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, who directed Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.

"It's the biggest team effort ever," co-lead actor George MacKay said after the top prize was announced.

He said he was "thrilled, proper thrilled".

In a radical filmmaking experiment, Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins shot footage that glides from trenches to crater-filled battlefields and through a devastated French town, in what appears to be almost one continuous shot stretching for two hours.

"They've never made a film in one continuous take. None of us have," Dean-Charles Chapman, the film's other lead actor, said.

Chapman and MacKay described how they rehearsed the scenes for six months, "reading the scenes in an open field" as they paced out their movements and dialogue until they became muscle memory.

Meanwhile, an intricately detailed set was constructed around them.

"We're walking along stabbing stakes along the floor to mark out – there's the wall, there's the start, there's the finish," Chapman said.

"Slowly the set would become a trench and then we'd adjust the size of the set around the scene. And we'd do that with every single scene – it took six months to do."

Keep viewers guessing

The bold approach paid off with victory at the Globes, which open Hollywood's award season. The film is also expected to win awards at the Oscars in February.

It is expected to compete for best picture, best director and awards in several technical categories, although its relatively unknown stars are not in the awards conversation.

Mendes said he deliberately cast actors who were not "big movie stars" to help audiences empathise with them and to keep viewers guessing about whether they would survive.

"Maybe both of them will be killed – I don't know. Whereas if it's Leonardo DiCaprio, then perhaps you know he's going to survive," Mendes said.

Chapman is best known for playing child king Tommen Baratheon in Game of Thrones, while MacKay had a supporting role in 2016 comedy Captain Fantastic.

While 1917 features renowned British actors such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott, they are confined to smaller roles.

'Most personal movie'

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Dean-Charles Chapman, left, and George MacKay in a scene from "1917," directed by Sam Mendes. The film is nominated for a Golden Globe for best motion picture drama. (François Duhamel/Universal Pictures via AP)
Dean-Charles Chapman, left, and George MacKay play the two leads. AP

The basis for the plot was a story Mendes's grandfather Alfred told him about serving as a messenger on the Western Front during the First World War.

This was supplemented with other accounts of the conflict taken from letters, diaries and other research.

"I suppose it is my most personal [film] because it comes directly from me, although I feel that I never made a movie that wasn't personal at some level," Mendes said.

I suppose it is my most personal [film] because it comes directly from me

Sam Mendes, filmmaker

The film turned out to have personal connections for its actors, too.

Research for the role of Lance Corporal Blake led Chapman to uncover his own great-great-grandfather's journal entry in a book called The Western Front Diaries.

The lead actors also visited France and Belgium to see war sites. The film was shot in England.

The collaborative nature of shooting 1917 mirrored the subject matter, as the actors learnt about the appalling experiences their ancestors endured in the trenches.

"There was lots of themes emotionally and literally, about the story and what the characters go through, that were entwined in the making of the film," MacKay said.

"It's a wonderful thing where the specialness of that experience aligns with it being received so positively."

Updated: January 7, 2020 01:02 PM

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