(Ireland/France/Iceland - 2019)
Directed by P.B. Shemran (Farhad Safinia). Written by Todd Komarnicki and P.B. Shemran (Farhad Safinia). Cast: Mel Gibson, Sean Penn, Natalie Dormer, Steve Coogan, Stephen Dillane, Ioan Gruffudd, Eddie Marsan, Jennifer Ehle, Jeremy Irvine, David O'Hara, Anthony Andrews, Laurence Fox, Lars Brygmann, Bryan Murray, Sean Duggan, Olivia McKevitt, Brendan Patricks, Shane Noone. (Unrated, 124 mins)
A longtime dream project that Mel Gibson's had on the backburner since purchasing the movie rights to Simon Winchester's book when it was released in 1998, THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN ultimately became a nightmare of behind-the-scenes clashes and multiple lawsuits. Gibson began developing it as far back as 2001, when the great John Boorman (DELIVERANCE, EXCALIBUR) was set to write and direct. That fell apart and Boorman's script was reworked in 2007 by Todd Komarnicki (SULLY), with Luc Besson attached to direct, but that was right around the time that Gibson's traffic stop and other offscreen problems essentially made him persona non grata in Hollywood for at least the next decade. Nine years later, with numerous international financiers, Gibson finally got THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN going with a new script by his friend and APOCALYPTO collaborator Farhad Safinia, who would also be making his directing debut. It was near the end of filming in Ireland in 2016 that disagreements began to develop between Gibson/Safinia and Voltage Pictures head Nicolas Chartier, when the pair asked for an additional $2.5 million for five additional days to shoot some scenes that they insisted had to be done on location at Oxford University (Trinity College was filling in for Oxford until then). Chartier rejected the request, telling them that they were already behind schedule and over the $25 million budget, so Trinity in Dublin would have to suffice.
LONDON FIELDS, another recent film left unreleased for several years due to endless litigation. It's a handsomely-produced period piece with meticulous production design that's often beautiful to look at and undeniably sincere in its approach, and while this Gibson-disowned version has some all-too-obvious red flags for post-production discord, it has other problems for which Gibson and Safinia should probably be held accountable. An account of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN focuses on Prof. James Murray (Gibson), a Scottish autodidact and linguist and self-taught expert in over a dozen languages, who successfully lobbies the powers that be at Oxford to entrust him with the task of compiling every word in the English language and its origin into a comprehensive, epic volume ("We are about to embark on the greatest adventure our language has ever known!" he declares). He estimates it'll take five years, but the project soon becomes too daunting, even with research assistants Henry Bradley (Ioan Gruffudd) and Charles Hall (Jeremy Irvine). It also places a strain on his family, with wife Ada (Jennifer Ehle) dutifully supporting him but truthfully not very enthused about moving their large family to a smaller home as Murray obsesses over his all-consuming project. The OED hits a brick wall, not helped by sneering publisher Philip Lyttleton Gell (Laurence Fox, conveying the erudite pomposity that his dad James and uncle Edward have projected so masterfully throughout their long careers) and supercilious Oxford board member Benjamin Jowett (Anthony Andrews), both of whom deem Murray's self-education dubious and a dishonor to the university ("I wonder if it's time to ease our gentle Scotsman off his little perch," Jowett harumphs).