Film tribute to Borderer nearer release after Mel Gibson lawsuit fails

Mel Gibson during filming in Ireland for The Professor and the Madman.
Mel Gibson during filming in Ireland for The Professor and the Madman.

A Hollywood legend has failed in his bid to block the release of a movie based on the life of a pioneering Borderer.

Mad Max star Mel Gibson plays Denholm-born headteacher James Murray, one of the creators of the Oxford English Dictionary, in the forthcoming film The Professor and the Madman.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the 1995 film Braveheart.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the 1995 film Braveheart.

The movie was shot in late 2016 and early 2017, with Gibson playing the professor and Sean Penn taking the role of the madman.

However, late in production, shooting ground to a halt after Gibson and director Farhad Safinia insisted that certain scenes be shot in Oxford, England, instead of Trinity College in Dublin.

Voltage Films refused that request, claiming it would add £1.9m to the production costs of a film already in danger of exceeding its £19m budget.

Gibson subsequently took legal action to prevent Voltage releasing its version of the movie, but he has now lost that case in the US, potentially clearing the way for an imminent release.

At a court hearing in California, Gibson’s lawyers asked judge Ruth Kwan to rule that Voltage had violated the deal and turn the rights over to him, but she refused, finding that the actor had failed to gather sufficient proof of breach of contract.

Safinia, a co-writer of the screenplay for the film, is also bringing a copyright lawsuit against Voltage, accusing it of seeking to exploit Ireland’s tax rebate programme.

The film, a pet project of Gibson’s for 20 years, is based on The Surgeon of Crowthorne, Simon Winchester’s 1998 book about collaboration between Murray and William Minor, an inmate in a mental asylum, to create the Oxford English Dictionary.

Gibson bought the film rights to the book, retitled The Professor and the Madman in the US, the year it came out but did not start work on it until two years ago.

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 is the second Scot to be played by US-born Gibson, 62, following his portrayal of William Wallace, guardian of Scotland from 1297 to 1298, in 1995’s Braveheart.