Meet the Soldier Boy; Dean-Charles Chapman Is the Breakout Star of Sam Mendes's New Oscar-Tipped War Epic, 1917. He Tells Katie Strick about Gruelling Shoots, Golden Globes Glory, and Starring Opposite Andrew Scott

The Evening Standard (London, England), January 9, 2020 | Go to article overview

Meet the Soldier Boy; Dean-Charles Chapman Is the Breakout Star of Sam Mendes's New Oscar-Tipped War Epic, 1917. He Tells Katie Strick about Gruelling Shoots, Golden Globes Glory, and Starring Opposite Andrew Scott


Byline: Katie Strick

DEAN-CHARLES Chapman speaks with the weight of a man who's lived through the horrors of war, which is probably because he has, in many ways. "I was in the First World War for nearly a year," the Game Of Thrones star tells me, in the same loveable Cockney twang as his on-screen character in double Golden Globe-winning film, 1917.

The thriller, co-written, directed and produced by Skyfall director Sir Sam Mendes and starring acting heavyweights from Benedict Cumberbatch to Andrew Scott, scooped best director and best motion picture at Sunday night's starry LA ceremony and Essexborn Chapman, 22, was one of just two of its stars to join a trophy-clutching Mendes on stage.

His character, Lance Corporal Tom Blake, is one of the film's two protagonists: a pair of young British soldiers sent on a high-stakes and seemingly impossible mission to deliver a message that will prevent a massacre among fellow battalions.

Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) is the more dour of the two -- a disillusioned twenty-something who traded a medal he won at the Somme for a bottle of French wine. His comrade Blake, 18, is a baby-faced country boy whose own brother (Richard Madden) is one of the 1,600 men they're sent to save.

"It's sort of like therapy, talking about it," Chapman tells me over coffee at Westminster's Corinthia hotel, five months after filming and midway through two jet-set press tours around the US.

The film lands in UK cinemas tomorrow and has already been called one of the year's "mightiest technical achievements" for its immersive, real-time feel. Set in a single day in April 1917, the entire 117-minute film has been meticulously stitched together to give the impression it is one continuous shot -- the first time the technique has been used on a film of this magnitude. "It really was a fully choreographed dance between the actors and the camera," says Chapman, recounting how he and MacKay were put through six months of rehearsals and a rigorous military boot camp to prepare for filming.

"The scene needed to be the length of the set and the set needed to be the length of the scene. So every rehearsal was done full-out with full emotion to judge how quickly we were moving towards the camera and how quickly the camera needed to catch up."

Shooting all 117 minutes in one take would have been impossible so cuts were carefully placed in moments that were unnoticeable to viewers -- explosions that clouded the screen or brief CGI shots -- and scenes were often several minutes' long. Chapman's longest lasted nine minutes. "That was the hardest scene for me because we'd only read it through once," he recalls. "Sam just wanted to let us do it on the day to see what came out. The first time I did it, I couldn't stop crying after they called cut I was just so wrapped up and traumatised by the scene and the themes of what we were doing."

Filming took place across Scotland, Hertfordshire and on military land in Wiltshire, where a mile of trenches were built to full scale with "real mud and dirt". Chapman had shin splints during shooting and conditions were "exactly how they would've been": mud was "like ice", dead horses looked like dead horses, "over-the-top" scenes saw 500 extras scrambling out of the trenches.

"It was really, really difficult to just walk," he says, admitting there are several accidental slips and falls in the film where he and MacKay missed their footing in the mud. Their fear, too, was "really real". "When you're 10 minutes into a scene and you've got those surroundings looking how they would have actually been, there's almost no acting required," says Chapman. "It's mostly a case of living and breathing and reacting how the character would react. …

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