IRISH BALLAD PLAYS HOLLYWOOD
death is lamented in one of Ireland's most popular ballads and
now Willie McBride, an Irish soldier who died fighting for
Britain in the first world war, is to get the big screen
American producer is developing a $10m (£8.6m) feature film
based on the story of McBride as told in The Green Fields of
France, an anti-war song made famous by the Fureys.
Stuart, a film producer in New York, was moved to start making
the film, called The Last Parade, after hearing Tommy Makem
perform the ballad in a New York pub. "The song was my
inspiration for the film. I had to fictionalise the character
because there was very little I could find on the real Willie
McBride," said Stuart.
was originally a fictitious character invented by the song's
composer, Eric Bogle, a Scotsman living in Australia. His ballad
is the lament of a man who comes across the grave of McBride, a
young soldier, in a military cemetery in northern France. He
notices that the boy was only 19 when he died in 1916, one of
the many Irishmen who fought and died for Britain on the fields
of France. He sits by the grave asking the dead soldier
questions, such as whether his death was quick or "slow and
obscene" and if he left a wife or sweetheart behind.
later discovered that a Private William McBride had been killed
in the war in 1916, at the age of 19. But so little else is
known about the private that his life has been completely
fictionalised in the film, said Stuart. "I was able to find
out from the war graves commission that he was a member of the
2nd Battalion the Enniskillen Regiment and that he died in 1916
near Verdun. I could find nothing else," said Stuart. He
also wrote to several McBride families but got no further
information. "At that point I had to invent him. So I
invented a boy who wanted to be a boxer, whose family were
pacifists," he said. "McBride's father is portrayed as
a Church of Ireland rector in Pettigo, Co Donegal."
McBride attends Trinity College Dublin. He wins several fights
for Crumlin boxing club, before joining the army in Enniskillen
and going to France where he meets his death. In true Hollywood
tradition, he leaves behind a heartbroken girlfriend. The film
closes with McBride's burial, to the sound of a drum beating
slowly, a fife playing softly and the last post and chorus being
played by a band - all in accordance with the original
said he tried to "maintain a high degree of historical
accuracy" in the film. Some of McBride's friends in the
movie are based on real soldiers who came from around
Enniskillen and died in the war. "In a way it's a tribute
to them and all of the Irish who died in that war," said
Stuart. "I remained true to the lyric as far as I could. I
had no qualms about inventing a life for a well-known hero. I
gave some substance to the very unknown. The Willie that I
invented is every bit a hero."
he first came up with the idea of a film based on the ballad,
Stuart said he rang Bogle. "He sent me a photograph of the
grave," said Stuart. Bogle has agreed to his song being
used as the film's theme music, according to Stuart. Bogle also
plays a cameo role - in the last scene of the film he sits by
McBride's grave while the song is played.
hopes to shoot the film in Donegal, Dublin, France and Germany.
The cast will be mostly Irish, with an unknown young actor
likely to be cast as McBride. Stuart is looking for an Irish
production company to coproduce.
forwarded by John Cunningham