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Inside incredible story of how a champion British triathlete made the Oscar-nominated All Quiet on the Western Front

Inside incredible story of how a champion British triathlete made the Oscar-nominated All Quiet on the Western Front

IF anyone can claim it took blood, sweat and tears to make their dream come true, then it is filmmaker Lesley Paterson.

The 42-year-old remortgaged her house and competed in gruelling triathlons — even winning one with a broken arm — to raise the funds to bring war hit All Quiet On The Western Front to the screen.

Filmmaker Lesley Paterson helped to bring All Quiet on the Western Front to screenGettyThe German language film adapts the classic novel of the same nameAPFilmmaker Lesley is a five-time world champion triathleteGetty

But this Sunday, the five-time world champion triathlete will swap running shorts for a designer dress as she walks the red carpet at the Oscars.

Her German language film, which she adapted with co-writers Ian Stokell and Ed Berger from the German novel of the same name, is up for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

It has already picked up seven Baftas at the British awards last month.

Talking to The Sun ahead of the Oscars, Stirling-born Lesley is characteristically blunt about the buzz.

Laughing, she says: “It’s f***ing bananas. It’s so surreal.

“When you’ve dreamt of it for so long and then you see it coming to fruition, it’s a very bizarre experience but I feel very grateful and very lucky.

“I grew up in a Scottish family where you’re expected to be resilient.

“You get out there and you give it a go. You don’t moan and complain. I was born with a fire in my belly.

‘Red rag to a bull’

“If anything is difficult or trailblazing, that’s what I want to do. I’m drawn to adversity.

“I actually find meaning and purpose through suffering.

The film already picked up seven Baftas at the British film awardsPA

“My husband says I’m like a little wind-up toy. You just point me in a direction and I go for it.”

The youngest of four, she was the only girl playing rugby for Stirling County when she was seven years old.

But she also loved ballet and recalls how the other kids laughed at her when she turned up to dance classes with muddy knees.

At 13, she discovered triathlon — the endurance sport of running, cycling and swimming — and two years later she was representing Great Britain.

But in her later teens, she vowed never to compete again. Lesley explains: “I got very disillusioned with triathlon and being in the system, trying to get to the Olympics. I lost my passion for it.”

After marrying psychology professor Simon Marshall at 21, she moved to Los Angeles and took a masters degree in theatre, then decided to pursue a career as a screenwriter.

It was then that she optioned the film rights to All Quiet — which she remembered reading at school.

It is a brutal anti-war tale told from the point of view of a young working-class German in World War One.

She says the message of “the betrayal of the youthful generation” chimed with her.

Lesley adds: “As a Scottish person fighting the upper brass, I could relate to that everyman plight.”

She reconnected with triathlon aged 27 on a visit home to Stirling and decided to enter the Scottish championship, which she won.

Soon after, Lesley discovered Xterra, a new form of rough terrain triathlon.

She says: “Going back to university rekindled my love for life and when I found Xterra I said, ‘Oh my God, this is what I’ve been missing’, so I got back into that.

“At the same time, we were pursuing All Quiet, pitching it as an English film with German accents but we weren’t having much luck.

“We ran through different producers, different casts and even had (Harry Potter actor) Daniel Radcliffe on board early on.

“But it was proving incredibly challenging to get off the ground.

“We were sending hundreds of emails, making lots of phone calls but nobody was returning them and everyone was telling us, ‘You can’t do it’.

“But if anybody tells me I can’t do something, that’s a red rag to a bull.”

Faced with an annual bill of up to £12,500 to renew the option on the book, Lesley turned to her love of sport to raise the cash.

She says: “Race winnings are never guaranteed, but I said, ‘Let’s give it a whirl’, because it was the only way we would be able to pay for it.”

In 2011 at the age of 31, Lesley defied the odds — and a flat tyre — to win the first of her five world championships.

Speaking to a Scottish newspaper afterwards, she said her next goal was to win an Oscar.

It might have sounded like a pipe dream, but it is one that could come true on Sunday.

She used the £17,000 prize money from her win to continue her option on All Quiet.

Two more titles followed in 2012 before a battle with the bacterial infection Lyme disease put her out of action for six months.

But in 2015, when once again desperate for cash to keep her film dream alive, Lesley won a race in Costa Rica despite competing with an agonising fracture.

She says: “The day before the race I was pre-riding the course because it’s off-road, so you need to know all the twists and turns, but I fell off my bike and broke my shoulder.

“Obviously I was devastated. I didn’t know it was broken until I got home and got it X-rayed but I knew I couldn’t lift my arm and I was in incredible pain.

“I had a go on the bike and I could kind of steer with the right arm and walk down any difficult descents and running wasn’t too bad.

“But when I got to the water’s edge I looked at my husband and said, ‘There’s no effing way I can swim. Not a chance in hell’.

“He said, ‘You’re really good at (swimming stroke) the one-arm drill’.

Cannon fodder

“So off I went. I completed the mile swim with one arm, coming out of the water 12 minutes behind, cycled up to second place then, on the final stretch, I ran into first place and got enough money to maintain the option.

“It’s funny looking back at it now but it is the kind of crazy s**t I’ve done my whole life.”

Lesley and Simon also remortgaged their house to keep the option renewed and estimate they spent around £170,000 in total.

By 2020, the Hollywood landscape had changed and the mood was ready for All Quiet to make some noise.

South Korean smash Parasite became the first non-English-language film to win the Best Picture Oscar and Sam Mendes’ World War One movie 1917 also proved a hit.

Lesley was then contacted by Swiss director Edward Berger, who lives in Germany, and German producer Malte Grunert.

She says: “After 14 years of ups and downs and hopes being dashed, Edward and Malte got hold of our script and loved it.

“They asked us if we would consider doing it in German, and with the success of Parasite and 1917, it was perfect timing.

“So we worked with Ed who did his own draft of the script, infusing it with German sensibility.”

The film, which stars Felix Kammerer as 17-year-old German soldier Paul Baumer, premiered at the Toronto film festival in September and launched on Netflix the month after.

With the war in Ukraine, the brutal story of a generation of young men duped into becoming cannon fodder in a doomed patriotic mission, struck a chord with audiences around the world.

Lesley says: “It’s about young men going off to war, the manipulation of the youth, the indoctrination.

“All those aspects are really powerful and where our mindsets are at now.

“The fact that it’s told from the side of the ‘enemy’, from the German perspective, is unlike anything I have seen before. It gives it a unique humanity.”

Still training daily, from 5am until 9am, Lesley intends to carry on competing in triathlons in between new film projects.

She is in talks with various production companies and is working on projects set in Africa, Ireland and Scotland.

She says: “People are now taking our phone calls, which is so strange.

“I’ve spent the last 16 years not getting any calls returned and now people are pitching to us.

“A couple of people have approached me about making a film of my life story, which would be kind of cool.”

I walked up to Tom Cruise and told him I was the writer of All Quiet and he said: ‘I know your story. How many hours a day do you train?’ That blew my mind

She is also enjoying mixing with A-list stars.

She says: “I walked up to Tom Cruise and told him I was the writer of All Quiet and he said, “I know your story. How many hours a day do you train?’. That blew my mind.”

Lesley is married to psychology professor Simon MarshallGetty

Lesley is now looking forward to rubbing shoulders with more stars at Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony.

“I’m so excited,” she says. “It’s like a dream come true.

“I’ll just try and stay as present as I can so I can enjoy every moment, meet lots of people and soak it all in.”

She is also embracing the glamour and is having a custom-made gown from London label KolchagovBarba “in bold colours, like my personality”.

It is a far cry from the muddy rugby pitches of Stirling and the punishing triathlons.

However, she says: “I’m still most comfortable getting out there in the rough terrains.

“But I’m really enjoying being a bit of a princess for once.”


WHILE All Quiet On The Western Front has been showered with award nominations, it has not been so well received in Germany.

Critics there slammed the screen version for straying too far from Erich-Maria Remarque’s 1928 novel, still revered as a literary classic.

Historians claim the film has “black-and-white” inaccuracies, and one critic wrote that the novel had been turned into a movie that was “horny for an Oscar”.

The German book was banned by the Nazis as unpatriotic but is now a set text in many German schools.

More than 20million copies have been sold worldwide.

But the film removed some central characters and added sub-plots, with one Munich-based paper raging: “No book is so good that you can’t turn it into a terrible film.”

Newspaper Bild said the film had “indescribable impudence”, adding: “It takes a considerable portion of ignorance, disrespect and Oscar-lust to mess up a masterpiece in such a fashion, to pulverise its content and story so mercilessly.”

In the face of the onslaught, director Edward Berger hit back, saying: “Germans are always sceptical of ambition. Whenever you try something a little bit different than the norm, they get worried.”

He added: “I think the reception overall was very, very positive in Germany, especially from audiences.

“But, of course, we also had critical reviews. You can’t please everyone and that’s totally fine.”

Lesley says she and co-writer Ian spent months analysing the book.

She added: “We bought multiple copies, ripped them up into different sequences, pinned them on the boards and really thought about what aspects of the novel we wanted to drill down on.

“We did about ten months of pure research on World War One, read German trench diaries and dug deep to see what take we wanted on the novel.”

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