In case Selma didn't convince you that David Oyelowo can hold the screen, he has a starring role in the newest HBO film — and his only costar will be a webcam. Nightingale isn’t based on a true story, but instead seems to draw its inspiration from films about veterans, rather than the stories of any real-life soldiers. Nightingale takes war PTSD to the extreme, imbuing every line with the potential for incredible disaster and violence. It's also therapeutic in some ways, because as a fictional character, Peter Snowden can be broken down and understood within 80 minutes.
Writer Frederick Mensch described his creative process in great detail in an interview with screenwriting blog Bluecat. It didn't start with a story about a real man — instead, Mensch started working on developing a character who had stuck in his mind from an earlier project.
I had written a script in which this character appeared as a supporting character. He was just a character who stuck in my head and I had more to say about him and so I started thinking of stories I could tell about him specifically.
That's all it took to come up with the concept of Peter Snowden, the veteran who lives in solitude alongside his mother in a small apartment, and whose only contact with the outside world is through the Youtube videos he posts online. As for the single-man, single-setting idea? That all came as a result from Mensch's goal to make this the most easily produced, cheaply made film of all time. As he told Bluecat:
I sort of latched onto the idea of telling a story with just one character, one location. The idea I had for Nightingale was perfect for that because it was a story about isolation and loneliness and the form and the theme just worked perfectly for that type of micro-budget production.
In a way, Nightingale seems like an adaptation of the influx of other films about veterans pushed to violence. The 2015 documentary Oscar winner, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press One, also an HBO production, covered the mental health services that vets desperately need when returning from war. PTSD was also the subject of films as diverse The Guest all the way to American Sniper. But, unlike some of these films, Snowden isn't the typical alpha male stereotype. Instead, he's eccentric and already right on the verge of a breakdown.
So, no, Nightingale isn't based on a true story, but it is highlighting contemporary issues through this lens of a character study. And, while Peter Snowden's life probably doesn't reflect the experiences of all war vets, it has been something of a trend to make films about PTSD, which will hopefully bring more attention to the issue — especially if HBO keeps producing docs like Crisis Hotline alongside original films like Nightingale. Plus, this is one that lets Oyelowo stretch his acting talent to the limit — which should make for an impressive watch.
Images: Joseph Cultice/HBO