Stories of a Terrible Beauty
Like most things, it didn’t start with a grand plan. For Dave Farrell, with a background in insurance, movies and film were always something of a hobby rather than a career.
That all changed though when he retired from insurance and was able to indulge in his passion when he formed a partnership with Stephen Rooke at Tile Films.
It was also a passion passed on to his two sons, Keith and Colin. The younger might share the same name as a movie star, but for Colin, it was behind the camera that he learned his craft, building up experience in location production working on big budgets such as King Arthur, The Tudors and Foyle's War.
Tile Films was carving out a name for itself in historical documentaries when the idea for a film about 1916 from three different perspectives, showing the human cost of the fighting on all sides came about. Thus A Terrible Beauty was born.
“That was in 2007 and it was to be a process of 5-6 years from the germ of the idea to seeing it through to the screen,”explains Colin Farrell who played the role of Volunteer Frank Shouldice on the movie.
“We knew there was a great untold story there, from the rebels, British and civilian’s side. It was a story that had never really been told and my brother Keith, who was the real driving force behind the project and was the writer and director, gathered first hand accounts from various sources such as Military Bureau archive and British Imperial War Museum using that as the basis for the story.”
A Terrible Beauty focuses on the two most ferocious battles that took place during Easter week: the battles of Mount Street Bridge and North King Street, culminating in the massacre of fifteen young men and boys.
By mixing dramatic battle reconstructions with archive footage and first-hand accounts, it takes the viewer on a journey to the very heart of the conflict, giving them an up close and personal view of the often brutal and bloody fight which affected the men and women caught up in the chaos.
“With a budget of only €450,000 you ended up doing everything from driving the van, shooting and even going in front of camera.,” says Farrell. “As my father says, if you put your hand out in Hollywood you’re given a coffee, do it on this shoot and you’d be handed a sweeping brush.”
Funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) it aired on TG4 on Easter Monday 2014 and received plaudits and acclaim on its release. ‘You won’t have seen a better film about the 1916 Easter Rising’ said the Evening Herald while the Chicago Tribune described it as a ‘docu-drama of extraordinary power’.
With the glut of 1916 content in Ireland in the run up to the centenary commemorations, Tile Films decided to take A Terrible Beauty to America.
“We took it to America for screenings starting in Philadelphia and it went down well even though it was showing perspectives from British side as well,” says Farrell. “People in the US have moved on from the North now and are as willing to take on board viewpoints other than the rebels’.”
One unforeseen project that arose out of the film has been Stories from 1916 which has developed into a digital portal to showcase the ‘ordinary’ people’s stories from the Rising.
“After A Terrible Beauty was broadcast we started getting emails from people saying they had stories to tell about their family members too. The first one actually started as a complaint would you believe.
“Featured in the film was the story of how four rebels - James Doyle, Tom and Jim Walsh, and Willie Ronan – managed to escape from the barricaded and burning Clanwilliam House on Mount St.
“Unfortunately we could only pick one person to tell the story from each place and we chose Doyle for Clanwilliam House. We did include a description of Tom Walsh lying in a pool of blood but his family thought it came across that he had died which he hadn’t.
“We arranged to meet the family to get their relatives’ story. We met them and decided there were great stories still to be told and Stories from 1916 was born.”
It’s very much a labour of love for Farrell, developing the site all the time with new stories and multimedia content, trying to bring it all together in a digital portal.
As the official commemorations of the 1916 rebellion gear up, Farrell is determined that the story to be told is more than that of just Pearse, Clarke, Connolly and the other leaders.