Valkyrie: Is the 2008 War Thriller Based on a True Story?

Directed by Bryan Singer, ‘Valkyrie’ is a war thriller set during World War II that centers around an ambitious plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The plan is spearheaded by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who has become increasingly disillusioned by Hitler’s rule and worries about the future of his country as a patriotic German. Aiding him in this plan are other prominent officers in the German military who secretly share von Stauffenberg’s sentiments.

The 2008 film is led by Tom Cruise as Colonel von Stauffenberg. He is supported by a stellar cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, and Carice van Houten. Though the storyline may seem as outlandish as ‘Inglorious Basterds,’ the film itself is anything but. Every moment captured in ‘Valkyrie’ is serious and grounded, so much so that it may leave many wondering about the origins of such a story. If you are wondering the same, then here’s everything you need to know!

The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Valkyrie

Yes, ‘Valkyrie’ is based on a true story. Written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, the film takes inspiration from the real-life record of Colonel von Stauffenberg’s plan to assassinate Hitler. The plan was codenamed Valkyrie, which the film gets its name from. But while ‘Valkyrie’ is historically accurate for the most part, there are a few details that are either omitted or edited.

Christopher McQuarrie, who also acts as a producer for ‘Valkyrie,’ was inspired to write the biographical war film after a trip to Germany. In an interview with Alex Billington, the writer said, “I was in Berlin in early 2002. And I was on a tour of the city. The last place my tour guide took me was the Bendlerblock which is where a lot of the events of July 20th took place and where the whole story came to an end. And the Bendlerblock is now a monument to the German resistance. And as he was telling me about this — I knew a little bit about it.”

McQuarrie added, “I knew something about a one-eyed colonel and I knew about a bomb under a table. And I had always been fascinated with that kind of story, the behind-the-scenes story set within the Third Reich. And so when I got back from Germany, I tapped Nathan Alexander, who’s an old friend of mine and who wanted to try his hand at screenwriting, and said, if you want to write a screenplay, this is what I want to write it about.”

McQuarrie further revealed in the interview that he and Nathan Alexander used first-hand accounts, photos, newsreels, and texts that were recorded by the Gestapo and SS at the time to recreate the actual events that took place. They also met with the relatives of the conspirators which had a huge impact on the final screenplay.

To keep the historical accuracy of the July 20 plot intact, Peter Hoffman, a former Professor of History at McGill University, was also taken on as an unofficial consultant on the ‘Valkyrie.’ Hoffman, who unfortunately passed away on January 6, 2023, also authored ‘Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944’ which chronicles the family history of the von Stauffenbergs and reveals details about Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg as well. The book was also instrumental as a source of reference for the film’s story.

“Peter wasn’t an official adviser for the film,” said Nathan Alexander in an interview with the McGill Reporter, “but we developed a relationship with him over the course of making the movie. He saw a draft of the script and gave us notes and comments. He was incredibly helpful to us.” True to his work as a historian, Peter Hoffman only wished for the film to be sympathetic towards Colonel von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators, who have been painted as having darker motives than simply wishing for a better future for all of Germany and ridding the country of Hitler and the Nazis influence.

Emphasizing the same, McQuarrie said in an interview with Katey Rich, “They weren’t Nazis. That was probably the most difficult thing to address in the movie, was how to specify the difference between the different factions, who was a Nazi and who wasn’t. After 60 years of simplification, there was no speech that was ever going to clear that up in our movie, so we let it go and decided to focus solely on the actions of these characters, and let the actions speak for themselves…”

The writer also considered how an American audience would perceive it. “…I think by making a movie about what these men tried to do, what they risked and the sacrifice they ultimately made, the elements that make up the best sort of cinema, and specifically what appeals to an American audience more than anything else, which is these are guys who took on the system,” he continued.

Image Credit: German Federal Archives/Wikimedia Commons

Written and executed masterfully, every sequence in ‘Valkyrie’ keeps the viewers in their seats, constantly rooting for the plot to succeed. Tom Cruise’s acting is the moving force behind the film; he captures von Stauffenberg’s duality as a military officer and as a member of the resistance with the right amount of paranoia in the mix with ease. Though a war thriller, ‘Valkyrie’ is at its heart a story about humanity and doing what is right, and captures this essence from the real-life story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his fellow resistance fighters whose legacy will live on as men who challenged one of the vilest man and his power in history.

Read More: Best World War II Movies