Liam Neeson plays lead role in IRA sniper film deal
Film to be based on Mark Mulholland’s 'A Mad and Wonderful Thing'
Mark Mulholland: The hero of his book, Johnnny Donnelly, is an IRA sniper. Mulholland’s youngest brother, Darren, was convicted for his role in a Real IRA conspiracy to cause explosions in London and sentenced to 22 years in prison. “When I wrote the opening scene, in 1991, I invented Johnny Donnelly,” Mulholland said. “Then my brother actually became a Johnny Donnelly. Not really, but kind of.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Liam Neeson “It was Liam who did the running on this and made the thing happen,” said Mark Mulholland. “And it was Liam that approached and encouraged Parallel Films to go for it. Liam has been loyal and supportive to the work from the start and he has also made some wonderful comments. Liam, because of who he is, brings assurance of a big production and a guarantee of attention.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
If you want your novel to be made into a film, get it into the hands of a famous actor. A Mad and Wonderful Thing, the debut novel by Mark Mulholland, is set to be filmed by leading Irish film-maker Parallel Films thanks to the enthusiastic support of Liam Neeson, the author’s agent Laura Susijn confirmed last night.
“It is solid, negotations are finished but it’s really early days, it’s really exciting. Liam Neeson loved the book and passed it on to Alan Moloney, someone who makes extremely good films. Alan loved the book too and wanted to option it.”
Neeson said of the book when it was first published: “I thought it excellent. Deeply satisfying and moving. I also think that sufficient time has passed since the Good Friday Agreement to, at last, have a novel that goes inside the head of one of the ‘Troubles’ protagonists and hear the pros and cons of the conflict (to take up arms or not) told in an original and exciting way. All Mark’s hard work has paid off. Ireland has a new and exciting voice.”
The film could prove controversial. The novel is narrated by a young man named Johnny Donnelly, who falls in love with a girl called Cora – the “mad and wonderful thing” of the title. Johnny is charming, funny and eloquent. He is also an IRA sniper.
In 1999 Mulholland’s youngest brother, Darren, was studying theoretical physics at Queen’s University Belfast. He was arrested along with two fellow members of the Real IRA, charged with conspiracy to cause explosions in London and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
“When I wrote the opening scene, in 1991, I invented Johnny Donnelly,” Mulholland told Arminta Wallace in an interview in The Irish Times last year. “Then my brother actually became a Johnny Donnelly. Not really, but kind of. He caught me blindsided. So there you go. What does anybody know about anybody? Brilliant student, 19 years of age, has the world at his feet,” says Mulholland. He loves his brother but still doesn’t understand what motivated his decision to get involved in violence, Wallace wrote.
The Dundalk-born author, who has lived in France for the past 11 years, spoke at length about the deal to Talk of the Town, a local website.
Neeson’s role was crucial, Mulholland said. “It was Liam who did the running on this and made the thing happen. And it was Liam that approached and encouraged Parallel Films to go for it. Liam has been loyal and supportive to the work from the start and he has also made some wonderful comments. Liam, because of who he is, brings assurance of a big production and a guarantee of attention.
“This will be Liam’s first film to include a role behind the camera. Some months ago I suggested to Liam that he may like to make the film himself. Madly enough, he said yes. Well, what he actually said was: ‘I don’t have a production company; never had. And I’ve no desire to direct or to produce really. However, I will make an exception for A Mad and Wonderful Thing.’ Well, how mad is that?
“We have had a lot of interest and had other options but Alan Moloney in Parallel Films and Liam bring elegance and gravitas to the production, and they bring knowhow. They also get it: they understand the fundamental thrust of the book. And it is great news, too, I think, for Dundalk. Our story and streetscape, our landscape and hinterland, our mythology, our people, and even our unique sound, are all to get a global airing.”
Parallel Films’s film credits include Breakfast on Pluto, Albert Nobbs, A Love Divided, A Film With Me In It, The Escapist, Perrier’s Bounty and Intermission. Parallel Films was contacted for this article but did not offer a comment.