Sir Sam Mendes reveals tribute to England cricket stars in 1917

The director named three soldiers after members of the team.
The director named three soldiers after members of the team. The director named three soldiers after members of the team.

Sir Sam Mendes has revealed that he named characters in his award-winning film 1917 after cricket stars Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Alastair Cook.

The war film, shot as if in one take, follows the journey of two young soldiers – played by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay – who venture across enemy lines to deliver a message that could save hundreds of lives.

It also features cameo appearances from stars such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth and Andrew Scott, but Sir Sam, who is a big cricket fan, said other famous faces are also referred to.

Ben Stokes File Photo
Ben Stokes File Photo Ben Stokes has a character named in his honour (Martin Rickett/PA)

He told a Bafta masterclass about the making of the film “Three of the soldiers in the back of the truck are members of the England cricket team.

“Private Butler, Private Stokes and Private Cook are all in the back of the truck, which is a fact I revealed to the England cricket team via my friend Mike Atherton while they were on tour.

“He emailed me saying ‘I went to see 1917 in Cape Town’ or wherever they were and the entire team was in there with me.

“I said ‘Oh this is the perfect time to tell them that they are actually in the movie’ and that is true, as well as various figures from our past.”

Asked if there was a possibility of a sequel or prequel to the film, which won a string of Baftas including best film, best British film, best director and best cinematography, Sir Sam said: “We did riff on how to tell two hours of the Mark Strong story, how he gets his troops into that van and gets across no man’s land, and pick up this random stray along the way and keeps on going and what happens to him.

“We decided that Benedict was going to get up in the morning, shave, send his men over the top, go back to his dug out and kill himself, that would have been a cheery one.”

He added: “We speculated but I don’t think it’s likely.”

Sir Sam also revealed that MacKay is nothing like the image he had in his head of his character Schofield, and he initially wanted an actor who looked like “a young Ben Whishaw – small, dark, slight, a bit of a poet”.

Newport Beach Film Festival UK Honours – London
Newport Beach Film Festival UK Honours – London George MacKay (left) and Dean-Charles Chapman (David Parry/PA)

He added: “He (George) came in and wasn’t physically what I wanted, but had a soulfulness and an old-fashioned nobility, he is sensitive, intuitive and delicate, but also physically capable.

“You had to believe he could withstand that level of punishment and then when we got Schofield, Blake (played by Dean-Charles Chapman) changed.

“We imagined him as bigger and more robust, someone bailing hay out on the land, but he became a bit more urban, a bit of a city boy. I came up with this image of an unusual unexpected friendship that wouldn’t happen in civilian life.”