Sam Mendes' Golden Globe winning film 1917 isn't based on a true story. The story of two lance corporals running to stop an attack which will end in tragedy never happened, but the story was inspired by very real events. Of course, the film is set during the very real World War I, but simply the idea of making the movie in the first place was largely inspired by a real person, Mendes' own grandfather Alfred, who was a soldier during the great war and who once had a mission shockingly similar to the one in the movie.
It's been more than 100 years since World War I came to an end, but director Sam Mendes learned a great deal about the conflict from his grandfather who fought in the war. He tells the Washington Post that his goal in making 1917 was to make a movie that made war feel real, something that he thought would be worthy of his grandfather. According to the director, the events of the war caused lasting changes in his grandfather that continued well into his old age. Mendes says of his grandfather...
He was an immensely confident guy. He didn’t look troubled. But he had a few quirks, one of which was that he used to wash his hands all the time, and we used to laugh at him. I said to my dad, ‘Why does granddad always wash his hands?’ He said, ‘It’s because he remembers how it was in the trenches, in the mud. He could never get the mud off his hands.’
Sam Mendes reveals that his grandfather told a story about the need to deliver a message between various posts at dusk. This required him to move through no man's land, the space between the trenches of the two opposing sides, which meant likely death if the other side spotted you. When it came time to write his war movie, Sam Mendes used this idea as the launching point for his own story.
That's only where the movie starts, as the two soldiers we will follow through the film get their orders, and try to reach a far off location to stop a massacre. It does certainly fulfill Sam Mendes' main requirement of trying to create an accurate representation of war. The film's much talked about style choice, to film and edit in such a way as to give the movie a feeling of "one shot" makes things feel about as real as cinema might allow. Everything takes place in real time, more or less, and we never leave our characters. We experience the entire movie exactly the way we would if we were in the shoes of the characters.
That certainly elevates the drama of 1917 which may be the reason so many people are responding to it, the film one the Golden Globe for Best Picture and has now been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Sam Mendes also received nominations himself for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, the latter alongside co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns.
1917 is dedicated to Alfred Mendes, and is in theaters now.