In the nominations released in recent weeks, Lesley’s passion project has been nominated for a huge fifteen BAFTAs, including the award for Adapted Screenplay. It has received more BAFTA nominations than any other film this year.
One of three co-writers of the screenplay, the trio could be set to scoop the Adapted Screenplay award at the Oscars, too, where the film is nominated in nine categories.
All Quiet on the Western Front has seen much success since it was released just a few months ago. In January it won the award for best adapted screenplay and was named one of five top international films by the National Board Review.
Lesley studied Drama at Loughborough and was a keen athlete, competing in triathlon for GB and Scotland. It’s a combination of her two passions - alongside her confidence in the adaptation of the WW1 novel - that have really led her to success.
Lesley has talked about her amazement at how the film had not been remade in recent years, later coupled with excitement to find that Universal’s rights to the book had lapsed. Alongside writer-producer partner, Ian Stokell, gaining the rights to the novel in 2006 was a huge feat and an exciting step in the journey which would take years to come to fruition.
The alumna’s passion, determination and belief in the project over that time certainly paid off.
Over more than 15 years, attitude to film changed and war films were becoming more popular. Despite a number of rejections, Lesley remained true to the project, but needed to secure more funds to get the screenplay off the ground. She utilised sport to get them over the line.
Despite having taken some time out from running, Lesley realised she missed competing – and it was through a competition that she managed to keep the Hollywood dream alive.
Competing in a triathlon competition in 2016, she claimed first place to scoop the prize money, despite sustaining a broken shoulder during the bike race. The prize ensured that payments for the book rights could be kept up, having already invested thousands alongside her husband.
It was in 2020 Lesley and Ian met Edward Berger and the trio pitched the film as a German project – having originally written it in English. It was once it had been pitched in German that Netflix commissioned it. Berger became a co-writer and producer of the film, which once commissioned by Netflix became a multi-million-dollar project.
The film follows 17-year-old German soldier, Paul who joins the Western Front in the First World War. His excitement quickly turns into fear in the movie which is based on the 1929 book by Erich Maria Remarque. When the book was released almost a century ago, Remarque’s intention was to show the truth and horror of war by channelling his own experiences as a German solider. The book was first made into a film in 1930.
Lesley and her fellow writers wanted to ensure that the essence of Remarque’s book and intentions were captured.
Writing a guest essay for the Hollywood reporter, she said:
“All Quiet was the first war novel I had ever read that was completely stripped of its genre catnip — heroism and adventure. It is a story about hopelessness and helplessness, about betrayal and shock, about losing one’s own humanity until the only thing you have left is war.”
Lesley talked about how she was listening to Schindler’s List and imagining recreating a scene, all whilst she was on a six-hour run in the Scottish Highlands. She added:
“As I looked across the valley of Glencoe, I had an epiphany: I knew we wanted an opening sequence that was atavistic and jarring, but it was the red coat that inspired the idea: We should follow the uniform, not the man — a human life reduced to the utility of a uniform recycled as propaganda.”
Combining exercise and creativity is important to Lesley and she says she has “long used it to plan visual sequences”.
Her journey through athletics and writing has helped Lesley to reach her Hollywood dream.
Lesley is continuing her filmmaking work alongside her husband, alumnus Simon Marshall who she met at Loughborough. He is an uncredited writer on the Netflix hit film and the couple are now working on a range of projects set in Scotland, Africa and Ireland.