Mel Gibson film about Borders bookworm facing hold-up

Mel Gibson in The Professor and the Madman, playing James Murray.
Mel Gibson in The Professor and the Madman, playing James Murray.

Fears are growing that a movie tribute to a famous Teri might never hit the silver screen.

Hollywood legend Mel Gibson plays Denholm-born headteacher James Murray, one of the creators of the Oxford English Dictionary, in a new blockbuster film.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the 1995 film Braveheart.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the 1995 film Braveheart.

The movie, The Professor and the Madman, has been adapted for the big screen from the 1998 Simon Winchester novel The Surgeon of Crowthorne.

The film, co-starring Sean Penn, revolves around Murray discovering that one of his leading disctionary contributors, William Minor, was a murderer and patient in Berkshire’s Broadmoor criminal asylum .

That revelation caused a furore in the 1890s, and now a legal disputeabout the making of the movie is causing controversy too.

Earlier this week, a legal complaint was filed in the US by director Farhad Safinia, alleging copyright infringement and defamation against Voltage Pictures, one of the production companies behind the independently-financed movie.

Denholm-born dictionary compiler James Murray.

Denholm-born dictionary compiler James Murray.

In a federal court lawsuit, Safinia argues that Voltage defamed him by issuing a statement to the Los Angeles Times in August claiming that he and Gibson had “failed to live up to their professional and contractual responsibilities”.

Safinia, also co-writer of the 2006 Gibson-directed film Apocalypto, is asking the court to impound the film’s negative and for an injunction against subsequent screenings and attempts to sell it.

Voltage is contesting those claims.

Gibson acquired the rights to the original non-fiction book, retitled The Professor and the Madman in the US, within months of it coming out and has been working to get it into cinemas ever since.

The £19m-budget film, shot in Dublin in Ireland, co-stars Natalie Dormer, Steve Coogan, Laurence Fox, Jennifer Ehle and Ioan Gruffudd.

Murray was born in Denholm in 1837 and died in Oxfordshire in 1915 at the age of 78. He left the Borders in 1856 in search of milder weather and took charge of the dictionary project in 1879, overseeing it until his death.

The Hawick Grammar School teacher will be the second Scot to be played by US-born but Australian-raised Gibson, 61, following his portryal of William Wallace in 1995’s Braveheart.