Academy Award-winner Colin Firth stars as General Erinmore in Universal Pictures’ critically acclaimed and $100-million grossing war epic 1917.
Nominated for ten Oscar Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, 1917 tells the story of two young British soldiers Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) as they are given a seemingly impossible task. In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow soldiers—Blake’s own brother among them. In this immersive cinematic experience, director Sam Mendes thrusts the audience into the immediate peril and vast scale of World War I, witnessing the conflict in an urgent and propulsive way.
The weight of the war on his shoulders, it is General Erinmore who orders the mission. Few but Erinmore know that the Germans have staged a strategic withdrawal and are now fully prepared to obliterate any troops that challenge them.
“It may be that Erinmore himself privately feels sympathy for the boys,” says Colin Firth. “It may be that he doesn’t allow himself such feelings or simply doesn’t have them. I’m sure he would say that in the end it’s all the same. The job has to be done.
“All we see of Erinmore is the tactician,” Firth continues. “He has, in a short space of time, studied his choice of messenger and deliberately targeted someone who has a deep personal investment in the mission: this young man will want to save his brother. It’s a cruel tactic and hard to imagine a more effective one in the circumstances. Erinmore displays a sense of urgency and pragmatism by that fact that he makes the visit to the dugout himself, to give the orders personally and ensure they are understood. Sam was very keen to keep the tone professional: serious, sober and not melodramatic. All we needed to understand is the mission, what is at stake and what must be done. Not how the General feels about it.”
After some rehearsal, Firth shot his scene in one day. “Getting the whole scene as a single shot requires a great deal of advance preparation by all departments,” Firth says. “For the actors, it’s rather like the first night of a play. There is nothing to cover any mistakes. Of course, one does multiple takes, but not endlessly, and one of them will have to be perfect from beginning to end, from every point of view. You can’t edit. So, the tiniest slip means that the entire unit has to reset and go again.”
Even in his brief time on set, Firth was impressed with the technical precision of what Mendes and his creative team were achieving. “It was fascinating to watch the skill and ingenuity with which the scene was shot,” Firth says. “The preparation and skill on display by all departments was pretty staggering.”