All Quiet on the Western Front star on “fascinating” true story of character
Daniel Brühl speaks exclusively to RadioTimes.com about playing Matthias Erzberger in the new adaptation of the classic novel.
Erich Maria Remarque's classic World War I novel All Quiet on the Western Front is certainly no stranger to adaptation – having been turned into an Oscar-winning film in 1930 and then an acclaimed TV movie in 1979.
But the new version which arrives on Netflix this week is different from previous adaptations in a number of ways. This is the first time the book has been adapted in its original German language, for one, but also the script includes a number of additional plotlines that don't feature anywhere in the novel.
One of these storylines follows the very real historical figure Matthias Erzberger, a German writer and politician who had long spoken out against the war and was desperate to secure an armistice with the Allied powers.
Erzberger is played in the film by Daniel Brühl, and speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, the MCU star explained that he found it "fascinating" to dig into his character's story.
"I read his biography because I was shocked at how little we learned at school about this man who was so important in our history," he said. "A very brave and admirable man from southern Germany, climbing up the ladder and ending up in high politics in Berlin, and very early on, you know, fighting and attacking the policy of the Reich, protesting against their colonial politics.
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"He was targeted very early on, but was never intimidated and was persistent and had a lot of courage," he added. "So I read about this man and I found this biography to be absolutely fascinating – and it was important to capture that."
The actor said that while working with the film's director Edward Berger, he could tell that a lot of attention had been paid to telling Erzberger's story with "precision and interest".
"Because dramatically in the film, it's interesting to feel that urgency to go back and forth [between the scenes on the front and the political negotiations]," Brühl explained.
"But also to lift it to another historical and political context, which then had such a strong influence on what happened in history after that. Think of the Nazis, and Hitler wanting that very train [where the armistice was signed] when he invaded France to have the French humiliated and sign the surrender. And my character being killed by right-wing nationalists, you know. It was a very crucial moment in history that I found interesting to have in the film."
Since its premiere, this adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front has won particular acclaim for its brutal and visceral war scenes – earning comparisons to other war epics such as Come and See and 1917. And although Brühl was absent from these scenes, he was able to follow them being shot thanks to his role as a producer of the movie.
Brühl continued: "I was in Prague [where the film was shot] and was in touch with my partner, and he sent me a link to the dailies that they were shooting, and I was very impressed. I mean, given the circumstances – the budget was big for us, but small in comparison to Saving Private Ryan or films like that, and the pandemic had hit one of its peaks in Prague at the time.
"And James Friend, the director of photography, and Edward achieved this authenticity, to create these very visceral and horrific images with such a strong impact. That's why I thought it's interesting, because you might think it's a relief, to go to the train [where Brühl's scenes take place] and be away from the horrors of the trenches.
"But immediately you think, 'How horrible is it?' Look how they're sitting there in their polished uniforms and shoes, having their tea and eating their croissant and still arguing about signing the peace treaty, whilst hundreds and thousands of young men are being brutally killed on the battlefield. I thought that was a very interesting idea to do that."
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