West Cork murder documentary seeks to avoid ‘cliché’ of female victim – director

Netflix series to air this week as ‘new information’ is passed to gardaí by Jim Sheridan

The makers of a new documentary on the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier say they hope to have given a full picture of the mother-of-one as all too often the female victims of crime are reduced to clichés.

John Dower, director of Sophie: A Murder in West Cork, said he hoped the three part documentary, which will be streamed on Netflix from Wednesday, June 30th, paints a full picture of Ms Toscan du Plantier who was murdered in West Cork in December 1996.

“I wanted to make this film because I thought it was an extraordinary story and particularly with Sophie’s family, I felt we could make something that genuinely feels a bit different and I passionately believe this,” he said.

“One of our contributors, who didn’t know Sophie, talks about how in crime fiction, right back to film noir and pulp fiction, the female victim is a cliché, she’s beautiful, she’s blonde and that is pretty much all she is.


"Well, Sophie was beautiful and she was blonde but she was also a very complex figure, she had a turbulent marriage, she had questionable relationships and she had this life very much in the public eye in France.

“But, in a sort of contradiction, she craved the solitude of West Cork - we wanted to show that in all complexity and that is something we have done and I think that is important to the story and to portraying her properly.”

Mr Dower's series, produced by Oscar winning production company, Lightbox, comes ten days after Irish director, Jim Sheridan released his take on the killing Murder in the Cottage - the Search for Justice for Sophie on Sky Crime.

Mr Dower, who had not seen Mr Sheridan’s series at the time of speaking to The Irish Times, said he believed that there was room for both documentary series as he believed they were very different.

“There are key differences in that Jim Sheridan presents the series - he actively investigates. Thankfully for the viewers, you never see me at all. Occasionally, I am a voice behind the camera so stylistically that’s a big difference.”

The other key difference, he said, was how Ian Bailey, the main suspect, appeared to have been portrayed. In relation to Mr Bailey's conviction by a French court of voluntary homicide, Mr Dower said: "I read where Jim said justice has not been served."

Mr Dower and his team worked closely with the late Ms Toscan du Plantier's family and gained access to film footage of Ms Toscan du Plantier at her holiday home near Schull in West Cork.

“We set out to make this film with the blessing of Sophie’s family, very deliberately and this is not just a line but all of us on the team felt this, in true crime so often the victim is always an afterthought, is passive,” Mr Dower said.

“And so we wanted to tell Sophie’s story properly so we very deliberately sought access to Sophie’s family and they gave us that access so we have private home movie footage of her growing up and footage of her in Schull.

“We are making this film with the family, we are not making it for the family, they have no editorial control over it but we were making it with their point of view in mind and that becomes clear particularly in the final episode.”

Garda meeting

Meanwhile, Mr Sheridan has confirmed that he had made a statement to the Garda about information which he says has come to light in the making of his five part series.

The Irish Times understands that Mr Sheridan, accompanied by Mr Bailey's lawyer, Frank Buttimer, met two senior detectives, familiar with the case at a Cork hotel two months ago to advise them that he had new information.

It is understood the new information comes from key witness, Marie Farrell, who originally identified Mr Bailey as a man she saw at Kealfadda Bridge, some 2.6km from Ms Toscan du Plantier's house on the night she was murdered.

Ms Farrell retracted that statement in 2005 and alleged she was coerced by gardaí into identifying Mr Bailey as the man she saw at Kealfadda Bridge and she later testified to that effect in Mr Bailey's 2014 High Court case.

Now, Ms Farrell has told Mr Sheridan in his documentary that the man she saw outside her shop in Schull on December 21st 1996 and again at Kealfadda Bridge in the early hours of December 23rd 1996 was “Middle Eastern”.

According to The Sunday Independent, Ms Farrell met with detectives at Skibbereen Garda Station last weekend and gave them a statement in relation to the information she now has about the man she saw at Kealfadda Bridge.

Mr Sheridan told The Sunday Independent that it wasn’t up to him to say whether the information was significant or not and he declined to comment further given that the murder investigation remains active.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times