Portrait of John Boyle O'Reilly taken while he was in prison, 1866. Photo courtesy/Pelican Pictures
Help us expand our reach! Please share this article
BRAINTREE -- Set in the latter half of the 19th century, the upcoming movie "The Fenian" will take a dramatized look at the life of John Boyle O'Reilly, a former editor of The Pilot, and the plan he and his fellow Irishmen hatched to break six of their comrades out of an Australian prison.
The movie, which is set to release in December of 2016, is being created by a diverse production team, which includes British director Tony Williams, Australian writer Graeme Rattigan, and British composer Nick Wood. In an interview with The Pilot, Williams talked about "The Fenian," its story, and the process of creating it.
The term "Fenian," from which the movie takes its name, refers to a member of the 19th century independence movement in Ireland that sought to free Ireland from British rule. Members of that movement were frequently arrested by the British government for acts of defiance, sometimes violent, against England. Those arrested were occasionally sent to Australia, which held penal colonies owned by England at that time.
In a now historic event, O'Reilly and 61 other Fenians were transported to Fremantle, Australia for imprisonment in 1868. After being held in the Fremantle prison for only a year, O'Reilly and several others managed to escape from Australia and make their way to America aboard a whaling ship. In the years after O'Reilly's escape, a string of pardons were issued to the Fenians in Fremantle, leaving only six of them left in the prison in the mid-1870s.
Not wanting to leave their comrades behind, O'Reilly and other Fenians devised a plan to break the six prisoners out of the Fremantle prison. The focus of "The Fenian" will be on the actual prison break, and will show the heroic deeds of John Breslin, who was elected to be the leader of the operation.
In the movie, Breslin goes to Australia, masquerading as a mining prospector named James Collins. Once there, he infiltrates the prison and becomes a key component in the escape of the six Fenians.
He receives help from Captain George Anthony, who is in charge of the rescue boat that is ready to take the freed prisoners to safety, and Father Patrick McCabe of Fremantle, who helps communicate vital information to Breslin.
While a definitive cast list has not yet been set, the production team hopes to bring several well-known actors onboard, including Collin Farrell, Isla Fisher, and Jude Law. It is not yet known if those actors will agree to be in the movie, but Williams explained that he believes they will if he talks with them.
"I would say a 100 percent of all the actors, if we talked with them, would say, 'Yes, we'll do it,'" he said.
Williams went on to say that the script for the movie has been in a finished state since 2002, and he and his team have even created a few test scenes and a trailer to generate interest in the project. The scenes earned "The Fenian" director of photography Simon Akkerman an award at the 2014 Australian Cinematography Awards, and can be watched for free online at www.thefenian.com.au.
The movie, said Williams, will hopefully be filmed in a variety of locations, including Australia, Ireland, and Boston, where O'Reilly lived during his time with The Pilot.
As of right now, "The Fenian" is getting a large portion of its production money through crowdfunding efforts via the movie's website, and Williams said that soon a campaign on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo will launch. This campaign will run alongside the campaign on the movie's website.
Williams said that by gaining funding for "The Fenian" in this way, he and his team will have more control of its production. Those who donate to the movie through its website will secure a pre-release digital copy of it, and will be entered into a drawing for a chance to appear on its set.
He noted how it might sound odd for an English-born person to want to tell this story, considering how Fenians historically disliked England. However, he said, the story and its historical component drew him to the project.
"The reason I'm doing it -- It's an amazing story... it's an incredible story about people," Williams said.