Twenty years ago this summer, Trim and other parts of Meath became a movie set as Mel Gibson filmed his epic film on the Scottish patriot William Wallace, ‘Braveheart’.
Now, as Scotland prepares to vote on whether it wants independence from the United Kingdon or not, the twentieth anniversary of the film-making is being marked in Meath with a special showing of the movie in the Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, as part of its summer film season.
The Solstice is showing ‘Braveheart’, and another locally-made film, ‘Captain Lightfoot’, filmed in the county in 1954, with Rock Hudson playing the lead, in a locally filmed movie season next month.
The making of the $50 million dollar Braveheart, which went on to win five Academy Awards, saw Trim Castle become the city of York, with 80 local carpenters and labourers constructing the elaborate streetscape of the city in the middle ages for the Battle of York, which occurred in 1298.
Filming began that August, with hundreds visiting Trim every day to watch the filming from whatever vantage point they could find. Scenes were also recorded at Bective Abbey and St Nicholas’ Abbey in the grounds on Dunsany Castle.
Braveheart starred Gibson himslf, who was also directing, as well as Sophie Marceau, daughter of the French mime artist Marcel Marceau, Brendan Gleeson, Peter Hanly, Patrick McGoohan and Catherine McCormack, as well as hundreds of extras recruited from the Irish Defence Forces and the local population. Filming of the battle scenes took place on the Curragh in Kildare.
The filming wrapped up in early September, when Mel Gibson ended his visit to Ireland with a meeting with the local town councillors. Last year, President Michael D Higgins, who was Minister For Arts and Culture when Braveheart was filmed, unveiled a special commemorative plaque on Castle Street in Trim during the Swift Festival. Then local TD, Noel Dempsey, who was junior minister in both the Office of Public Works and the dEpartment of Defence, was instrumental on providing both the castle as a location, and the members of the Reserve Defence Forces as extras. However, in Scotland, the leader of the Scottish National Party was not happy that the filming was taking place in Ireland.
At the weekend, Gibson said he came close to being crushed to death by a horse while filming a savage battle sequence.
He said: “There was a horse that nearly killed me. He had a good trick where he did this whole rear-up thing, but he’d also fall backwards, which is a problem if you’ve fallen off first and you’re behind him.
“He did that to me. My stunt double ran in and pulled me out of the way just as the horse fell.”
However, despite the many near-misses that took place during the filming of bloody battle scenes, Gibson said that the sum total of injuries incurred by the cast included “a broken ankle and a hangnail and a busted nose”.
In an interview with Empire magazine, he said: “The thing I wanted out of the battle sequences was clarity. I’ve seen a lot of these battle movies and they just turn into mush. I broke it down to archers and horses and hand-to-hand and who had the high ground and the low ground, everybody was clearly delineated, even though it was often the same bunch of people playing different parts.
“We had the guys from the Irish Army, and one day they were all dressed like Scots and the next day they’d be English. I think there’s a scene where somebody actually kills himself.”
And Gibson made no apologies for the movie’s much-panned rewriting of history.
He added: “There’s scant historical record. Blind Harry (15th-century author of epic poem ‘The Wallace’) was fanciful and kicked it up to the mythic level, but if you’re looking for a complete compendium of the real life of William Wallace, you’re not going to find one.”
Braveheart will be screened in the Solstice on Wednesday 2nd July at 7.30pm. Captain Lightfoot screens on Wednesday 9th July, also at 7.30pm. This classic was filmed in Slane Castle and along the River Boyne 60 years ago, with Bective Abbey also a location for it.
Starring Rock Hudson and Barbara Rush, it centres on Michael Martin, a member of an irish revolutionary society who turns highwayman. He meets famous rebel, Captain Thunderbolt, and becomes his second-in-command, Lightfoot.
After these films, local extras are encouraged to come along to the theatre and share their stories of the filming.
Have you any photos, stories, memorabilia from the making of Braveheart? We would love to hear from you for a 20th anniversary feature on the making of the movie in Meath. Contact (046) 907 9655 or email firstname.lastname@example.org