"It was extraordinary and terrible"

"It was extraordinary and terrible"

Sam Mendes grew up hearing stories of the First World War from his grandfather Alfred H. Mendes, a Lance Corporal who served as a messenger on the Western Front.

The director’s film 1917 draws upon the stories passed down from his grandfather and personal accounts of people who witnessed the conflict, including those held in IWM’s collections. It tells the fictional story of two Lance Corporals sent on a mission to deliver an important message, racing against time to get there before an attack on German forces begins.

‘I made the movie in a way that wants the audience to feel like it happened yesterday, it’s a contemporary film. It’s made with all the contemporary bells and whistles of a big movie and obviously I hope this somehow enriches people’s understanding of what these men went through, because it was extraordinary and terrible.’

Both cast and crew drew upon IWM’s First World War collection in their preparation for the film, including lead actors George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman who visited IWM London and the First World War Galleries.

‘The whole Imperial War Museum archive is a remarkable resource and we used it to the fullest extent,’ says Mendes.

Find out more

Visitor in the First World War Galleries
Permanent display
First World War Galleries

IWM London


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First World War
The making of 1917
Hear actors Mark Strong (Captain Smith), Daniel Mays (Sgt Sanders) and Andrew Scott (Lieut. Leslie) describe how they prepared for their roles in the film – and how film can help us connect with a conflict that took place more than 100 years ago.
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First World War
Preparing for 1917 with George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman
Learning about the personal stories of those who fought in the First World War and visiting IWM London’s First World War Galleries helped actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay prepare for their roles as soldiers in the new film 1917.