Thaddeus O’Sullivan, the Irish director of BBC’s First World War drama The Crimson Field, tells David Hennessy about his grandfather who served during the conflict and that the Irish men who fought in WW1 have to be remembered.
Thaddeus O’Sullivan, the Dublin director of BBC’s The Crimson Field, explains the First World War was always a conflict close to his family’s heart: “My grandfather was in The Connaught Rangers and he was in the First World War throughout. That’s why I was interested. He was part of the British expeditionary forces so he went in august 1914 so he was in that war from the very beginning. That’s why I was delighted to get the chance.
“I was very conscious like everybody of the anniversary and it was always close to my heart and when I started on this project, it was surprising how many people had similar stories, their grandfathers or their great-grandfathers fought so it meant a lot to a lot of people.”
Irish soldiers fighting for the crown have already been acknowledged in a previous episode when Irish World Award winner Lorcan Cranitch played a sergeant in command of a young countryman (played by Kerr Logan) who, when his mother at home gets dirty looks in mass due to her son’s allegiance, refuses to wear the British uniform and says he will fight the Germans in his ‘Irish skin’: “That was interesting. The mother was hassled because her son was away fighting for the Brits, that was an interesting element.
“The Irish were not really acknowledged until very recently, how many fought and the sacrifice that they made. The loyalist regiments that fought have had more recognition than those from the south because they were seen as fighting for the empire, for Britain and for a good cause. Frank McGuinness’ play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme is a kind of recognition or acknowledgement of Ulster regiments. People from the south who fought never got that acknowledgement. It’s interesting history.”
The Crimson Field takes the opportunity of the centenary year to tell the story of medics and patients of a hospital in France during the First World War. From episode one, the story followed volunteer nurses that included Kitty Trevelyan, played by Oona Chaplin, who has come to a war to escape the chaos at home. The cast also includes Hermione Norris who plays a strict matron and Suranne Jones whose character Sister Joan Livesey hides a deadly secret.
The Crimson Field tells a new side to the war by focusing on the medics: “It’s a different take on the war. I certainly hadn’t seen it so I read a couple of biographies and it was kind of fascinating to see how some of these nurses were so inexperienced and had very little training. This story was focused very much on the ones who had very little experience before they went out so their experience of life near the front was shocking for them.
“People get away from home for different reasons and war means different things to different people and has different consequences. The implication is that a lot of men who volunteered to fight, they fought for all kinds of different reasons: Adventure, loyalty, hatred of Germany, hatred of people’s freedom being taken away. They have complex reasons and the nurses are there for complex reasons as well.”
Bob Hoskins R.I.P.
Thaddeus O’Sullivan directed Bob Hoskins in the short film The Woman Who Married Clark Gable in 1985. Last week the sad news broke that Bob Hoskins had passed away from pneumonia.
Thaddeus told The Irish World: “I was very sad about that. He was terrific, a lovely man and a great actor. He was very easy to work with because when I made The Woman who married Clark Gable, it was the first time I directed a drama and therefore the first time I had directed any actors and he was very helpful and very supportive. Whenever he felt something needed to be celebrated, he would always support it and he was always a great supporter of me on that film.”
Nigel Cole, who directed Hoskins in Made in Dagenham, said of the late great actor: “I could not be more grateful to his generosity of spirit, and his talent, and just what an extraordinary man he was.”
Helen Mirren, his co-star in The Long Good Friday added: “Bob was a great actor and an even greater man. Funny, loyal, instinctive, hard-working, with that inimitable energy that seemed like a spectacular firework rocket just as it takes off.”
Thaddeus couldn’t agree more: “The director Nigel Cole was talking about him and the things that he said about him I recognised so it’s nice to see that people remember him the same way. They have the same experiences. Helen Mirren was on as well and she also talked about him in a similar way so people are very consistent in their feelings about him.”
“We’ve just finished a book about The Woman who married Clark Gable. Now I’ve got the book, I’m looking at it with him on the cover. I’m sorry I didn’t send it to him. It’s a nice memorial for Bob and his involvement.”
Bob Hoskins is well remembered for his performance of a gangster under attack from the IRA in The Long Good Friday, a film that also featured a young Pierce Brosnan. Neil Jordan directed the renowned Hoskins in Mona Lisa. Hoskins also knew Hollywood success with roles such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The actor announced in 2012 that he would retire from acting due to a battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 71 when he died.
For the full interview, see the May 10 Irish World.
The Crimson Field concludes on Sunday at 9pm on BBC1, also available on iPlayer.