Allied: The Story that Intrigued Screenwriter Steven Knight

Steven Knight, the scribe of Allied, became intrigued with the incredible story of two undercover WWII spies who fell in love only to be set mortally against each other when their true identities were exposed.

allied_poster

In Allied, the forces of love and war combine–and collide–in the most volatile ways, demonstrating how moral certainties can quickly spin out of control.

The original story that obsessed Knight centered on a Canadian spy and a French school teacher turned resistance fighter.  The couple met on assignment, and then defiantly decided to marry, a practice that was discouraged by intelligence agencies.

For a while the union seemed to be a happy occasion–until abruptly, one was outed as a double-agent providing vital intelligence to the enemy.  This bit of info put the couple’s love and their lives in imminent dangers.

allied_1_zemeckis_cotillard_pitt

Sudden romances were known to spark among World War II operatives working in life-and-death situations at close quarters, especially since men and women often posed undercover as couples.

Intimate Betrayal Rule

But there was a daunting rule–the so-called “Intimate Betrayal Rule”–that hung over them.  Should two agents marry and should one discover their partner divulging secrets to the other side, that agent was expected, in heartbreaking self-sacrifice, to execute his or her lover without delay, or face immediate hanging for high treason.

The idea of lovers facing the dilemma between the sacred promises of marriage and their profound loyalty to country in a must-win war for the world’s future fascinated Knight.  The idea became the jumping off-point for a script that soon was drawing lots of attention.

Knight re-envisioned the story to center on a hard-nosed and proficient assassin, Max Vatan, who is not the type to let flirtation affect his thinking.  He made Max a member of the legendary, highly-trained British Special Operations Executive (SOE) – the top-secret intelligence agency that was ordered by Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze.”

SOE collaborated with the French Resistance in a series of audacious sabotage missions and assassination attempts behind Nazi lines.

allied_2_zemeckis_cotillard_pitt

Knight then created the character of Marianne, the alluring, enigmatic woman that even Max could not resist.  Marianne is every bit as smart, skilled and tough as Max is–and what’s more, she might not be what she seems.

The mistake people make in such situations is having feelings, says Marianne to Max.  But neither person can turn off their longing for the other.  From the start, Max and Marianne are constantly testing and teasing one another in playful ways.  However, that play becomes deadly serious when Max is forced to shadow his beloved wife to answer the most unthinkable question: could she truly be a traitor?

The changing intensity, shifting trust and sheer danger between the two, unraveling across several war-torn countries, made for a script that was as sensuous as it was relentlessly suspenseful.

Epic Thriller and Tragic Love

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an epic wartime thriller and grand tragic love story like this,” says producer Graham King, who knew as soon as he met with Knight about the script concept that he wanted to make the film.  “It’s the kind of rich storytelling on an ambitious scale we rarely experience anymore and it’s also very relevant to today’s world.  It’s about what war and divisions can do to the beauty of love.”

Producer Steve Starkey hopes that the film will give audiences a chance to experience the kind of sweeping narratives that have been swept aside in an era when most films are either huge fantasy blockbusters or small-scale dramas.

By harking back to the vaster dramatic canvases of Golden Age filmmaking, he hopes that director Bob Zemeckis will bring modern immediacy to the sprawling suspense epic.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard

“For people not raised on the 1940s style of movies, they’ve likely never seen this kind of picture, one that offers a big, visual spectacle and excitement but also profound human emotions,” says Starkey.  “The film was made in the most modern, technological way which makes for intense action. But Brad and Marion also embody the kind of grand movie romance we haven’t seen in a long time.”

Allied is Zemeckis’s first foray into WWII territory.  Executive producer Patrick McCormick notes that the film heads in a different, more psychologically thrilling, direction than the battles that have long been a Hollywood staple.  The danger for Max and Marianne goes beyond the gunfire of their missions and the bombs showering London; they also face a more insidious peril: the hidden truth.

Tale of Double Lives

“Though the film is set against the backdrop of World War II’s different warfronts, Allied is a story of double lives, one that is incredibly compelling on a human level,” McCormick observes.  “What’s so exciting is that in every scene in this story, the two main characters of Max and Marianne are operating on two different levels – what you see and what you don’t — and their every action resonates with unspoken secrets.  That makes for a powerful and unique subtext to both the thriller elements and the love story, because there is a boiling cauldron of suspicion coming to a head beneath them just as the war is building to its climax.

About Steve Knight

Knight is an Oscar nominee for Stephen Frears’ London thriller Dirty Pretty Things and the writer of David Cronenberg’s Russian Mafia tale Eastern Promises. He has also written and directed a daring and original one-man drama, Locke.