Any adaptation requires a certain level of interpretation of the historical facts, scripting choices and jump cuts in the life story of the actual man. How did his life unfold? Here are some biographical elements.

Dunant and Algeria
He was sent there by the Compagnie Genevoise, which had obtained a land grant from the French government in Setif. In 1857, he founded a prosperous mill company, the “Société des Moulins de Mons Djémila”. After waiting in vain for the approval to use a waterfall for his mills, he decided to appeal to Napoleon III directly.

Accused of embezzlement
Pressured by his stakeholders demanding dividends, he speculated on marble quarries that he didn’t have the means to mine. War and the ensuing panic at the Paris Stock Exchange made him lose large sums of money. His mistake was to hide his financial problems for too long, hoping up to the end to be able to recover.

Solferino, summer of 1859
Italy and France allied to drive the Austrians out of Northern Italy. The battle lasted 15 hours, leaving some 30,000 to 40,000 casualties out of armies of 320,000 soldiers. Dunant spent three days on the battlefield and managed to obtain freedom for the Austrian surgeons and doctors who went to work treating the wounded. He wrote a letter to the Countess de Gasparin, who launched a subscription in the Journal de Genève to send aid to Castiglione.

A memory of Solferino
He spent three years writing the book, published it at his own cost and, to avoid being accused of taking advantage of what he was denouncing, sent it to his friends and to the national governments and rulers. It enjoyed great success and earned him letters of sympathy and congratulations (including from Napoleon III and Victor Hugo).

Napoleon III and the so-called plot against Dunant
The plot depicted in the film symbolized the suspicion and difficulties encountered by Dunant in his contacts with the European courts and his own coreligionists, who forever tried to bring about his downfall.

The foundation of the Red Cross
February 3, 1863: With a view to studying the aid society project proposed in A memory of Solferino, the Geneva public welfare society or Société Genevoise d’utilité publique (which Moynier, Appia and Dufour belonged to) set up a commission that was to become the Permanent International Committee for Relief to the War Wounded. On October 26, fourteen nations adopted ten of the suggested resolutions. August 22, 1864: In the presence of twelve nations, the diplomatic Congress of Geneva, supported by France, drafted the Geneva Convention. Nineteen other countries were to sign on in the two following years. 1867: Dunant resigned as Secretary and went into exile. 1875: The Committee became the International Committee of the Red Cross.

From real-life figures to film characters
Hubert, the grandfather, worked at the Geneva hospital. Daniel, the brother, was an associate in Dunant’s company. Moynier, Appia, and Dufour were members of the philanthropic society. Adrien Nicky was a speculator, a wheeler and dealer in Algeria,
and Thuillier, a frustrated accountant. Cécile is based on two women: the Countess de Gasparin (see above, under Solferino, summer of 1859) and Cécile, a young orphan met in hospital; they became quite close and she always remained in the shadows. Léonie Bourg-Tibourg is based on Léonie Kastner, the wife of a renowned composer. She never ceased helping Dunant, even after his exile, and their platonic friendship gave rise to malicious rumors. Samuel Lowenthal is based on Dunant’s uncle. A bookseller and publisher, a romantic, freethinking eccentric, he symbolizes the spirit of tolerance.

Dunant the visionary
He founded the Union de Genève, a club for young people of all backgrounds that was to become the hub of an international network. Its charter remains the basis for the World Alliance of YMCAs.

He dreamed of restoring Palestine, then under Turkish rule, by establishing Christian and Jew communities from Central Europe, thus prefiguring the foundation of the State of Israel.

He founded a war prisoner protection society and organized a diplomatic conference in Brussels in 1874 (prefiguring the Second Geneva Convention of 1929).

He was involved in setting up a collection of universal literary masterpieces to be distributed in all major languages (prefiguring the mission of UNESCO and Article 26 of the Declaration of Human Rights).

He denounced the slave trade and suggested a diplomatic conference in Berlin to abolish slavery (prefiguring Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

He campaigned for gender equality and dreamed of a Green Cross Society to protect and help women. He participated in the foundation of the Women’s League.

He established himself as a leader of the international pacifist movement, wrote L’avenir sanglant (The Bloody Future), an antimilitarist book, and founded the Universal Alliance for Order and Civilization, whose mission was to promote and maintain social peace.

A few dates

May 8, 1828:
Birth of Dunant in Geneva

First trip to Algeria

June 24, 1859:
Battle of Solferino

Publication of A memory
of Solferino

Dark years of exile

Ill and alone, he settled
in the district hospital
of Heiden.

The Freitagszeitung of
Zurich launched a press
campaign in his support.

December 10, 1901:
He was awarded the first
Nobel Peace Prize.

October 30, 1910:
Death in Heiden.