Jodi Guglielmi
July 12, 2017 12:00 PM

 

For director Christopher Nolan and the rest of the cast, taking on their challenging duties in Dunkirk was about honoring the lives of the real-life soldiers.

In a new, exclusive featurette for the upcoming film, the cast discusses the “intensity” and “pressure” they felt while shooting the World War II drama.

“Knowing that this actually happened to people in real life makes it pretty intense,” says Harry Styles, who plays a soldier named Alex and makes his feature-length acting debut in the film.

Dunkirk tells the true story of the evacuation of the French city during World War II’s Battle of France in 1940. As German soldiers advanced across Europe, British, Belgian and French forces were pushed to the coast at Dunkirk.

“You’re right there with those guys, you’re right there with those kids,” says James D’Arcy. “You ask yourself the question: What would I do?”

Filming occurred 76 years after 338,000 French, Belgian and British troops were saved from the surrounding German soldiers — the largest military evacuation in history.

Nolan says he wanted the film to allow viewers to feel the chaos and “intense reality” of the moment, but also give them a unique perspective as outsiders to the situation.

“It’s the ultimate life or death and race against time,” he says of the film. “We’ve really tried to throw the audience into that with a degree of intensity — with a respect for history but with a sense of entertainment and a sense of a blockbuster.”

“We want to give people a really intense ride,” he continues. “Really put people there and allow them to feel what that experience would have been like.”

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Dunkirk also stars Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and Oscar winner Mark Rylance, and is set to hit theaters on July 21.

And as the film gears up for its arrival, PEOPLE also gives viewers a virtual-reality experience connected to the movie.

Save Every Breath: The Dunkirk VR Experience will be on display next week at the all-new VR in the Sky event taking place at the Time Inc. headquarters in New York. The first-of-its-kind two-day event will feature presentations, experiences and more spotlighting the cutting edge of the VR industry — with Dunkirk VR even making an appearance as a special installation at the top of One World Trade Center.

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