Sir Nicholas Winton’s daughter was happy to give permission for her father’s life story to be adapted into a film if the production company cast Sir Anthony Hopkins, the director has said.

The life story of British stockbroker Sir Nicholas is being adapted into One Life with Oscar winner Sir Anthony taking on the role of a man who saved hundreds of, mainly Jewish, Czech children from the Nazis following a visit to Prague at the end of 1938.

London-born humanitarian Sir Nicholas worked alongside volunteers as well as his mother, who is played by Helena Bonham Carter in the film, to bring 669 children to the UK as part of the Kindertransport efforts.

One Life director James Hawes said: “Barbara Winton, Nicky’s daughter and biographer, when she gave permission to See-Saw Films to make this project, said ‘but you need to cast Anthony Hopkins’, which is a pretty big ask, one of the most in-demand actors of his generation.

“So then it was a question of, would Tony respond to the script, and indeed be willing to work with this director? And thankfully, yes was the answer to all of those things, and then you had to find an actor who could be the younger him.”

The daughter of Sir Nicholas was also a campaigner for refugees and wrote the biography If It’s Not Impossible… The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton.

She gave the screenwriting team access to Sir Nicholas’s archives and letters before dying last year ahead of the film being finished.

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Johnny Flynn, who plays a younger Sir Nicholas (Belinda Jiao/PA)

Johnny Flynn, known for sitcom Lovesick and the 2020 adaption of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, was chosen to play Sir Nicholas in the early 20th century.

Flynn said: “Barbara Winton died whilst we were filming but she lived to know this story was being made and that was really important.

“Knowing those were the real descendants of the children he saved adds a power, a feeling.”

Hawes said that Flynn has the same “sort of stockiness and strength” as Sir Anthony.

He added: “He (Johnny) also has a very quiet, generous performance style that we felt would be absolutely sympathetic to what we wanted Tony and Nicky to be and then they talked a lot together.

“Johnny came to the set when Tony was doing the earlier scenes, watched him, sort of reverse-engineered that performance and what the younger version of it would be.”

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Barbara Winton, the daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Romola Garai, who starred in a 2009 TV adaption of Emma, called One Life co-star Flynn a person who “actors think is just an extraordinary actor”.

She plays Doreen Warriner, who was trying to rescue adult refugees alongside Martin Blake (Ziggy Heath/Sir Jonathan Pryce), before also helping Sir Nicholas evacuate children via trains.

Garai said: “I think I had a feeling before meeting and working with (Johnny) him, because of having seen other work that he’d done, that he would just be a very nice person like, sometimes actors imbue their characters with so much humanity and grace.

“Sometimes when you play people, you can get points for sort of playing them meanly or like playing up their villainous qualities and that’s sort of easy to do.

“And I always feel like he just grounds his work in total humanity and then, you know, when I met him and got to work with him, he’s just this incredibly kind, thoughtful, intelligent, lovely, man and, that really comes through in his performance of Nicholas Winton. I completely understand why he was the only person that could have played this part.”

The story of Sir Nicholas, who died in 2015 at the age of 106, was brought to the wider public’s attention by Dame Esther Rantzen in 1988 during a screening of the programme That’s Life.

One Life is being released in UK cinemas on New Year’s Day.