Eleven, a fictionalised story set in the final hours of World War I, was premiered precisely on the Armistice’s Centenary: at 11 am on the 11th day of November, 100 years on from the moment which brought an end to four years of bloody fighting.
A directorial debut at film level for Sean Cronin, a well-known character-actor who is frequently cast as villains, Eleven’s production, editing and final packaging was as gruelling a process as he could have ever imagined.
Cronin – whose great-grandfather fought in the Great War – worked himself tirelessly into the early morning just hours before the premiere was to take place in London. He was completing a coded transcript of every line in the movie so that each country – 27 in total – was able to dub the movie into their language.
“For it to come about around the Armistice weekend was very important to us. It’s too small a movie for us to actually make money, it was more a sign of respect,” he tells the Irish World, promising to rest up after some very taxing months getting the project together. “I’m having a few days off now. I’m at home in my slippers.”
The movie itself – which stars Cronin alongside a handful of fresh-faced actors and some more experienced faces – is grounded in the seeming futility of war and was shot across 17 days.
“It’s about the last two hours of the first World War and all these boys think they’re going home. They get this order from a stupid general – who’s sixty miles behind enemy lines – to hit the Germans with one last punch on the nose,” Cronin explains.
“868 Commonwealth soldiers died in the last hour of the war and 11,000 soldiers died in the past few hours because of some pompous general.”
With funding of about £100, 000 from Roy Livett, who also acted as an executive producer for the movie, Eleven moves beyond the big-budget theatrics of war, Cronin stresses, so that we can better understand the lives of soldiers as much as their deaths.
“Eleven is not a war film. It is essentially a love story,” Cronin’s director notes for the movie read.
With no romantic relationship centring in the movie’s narrative, how exactly, then, is Eleven a love story? “It’s a love of home. It almost becomes a love story between [two main characters] because we end in the same hospital…it’s about camaraderie,” he says.
Thematically, Cronin says, the movie tackles the idea that war is abjectly pointless and that it only serves to line the pockets of the rich. He also points to Eleven’s capacity to offer reconciliation.
“This film is about reconciliation. Each soldier, across the world, had family and nobody wanted to be there. It was a stupid war. 17 million died, 23 million wounded. All for what? For no reason at all.
“This film is about the folly and stupidity of war and the fact that, for all of those people who gave their lives for our freedom, it was a waste of their time, really.”
Cronin, who has worked extensively as a cinematographer, was initially drafted into the project to work as the Director of Photography but a bout of illness held Rock Salt, the screenwriter, back from taking the lead.
The keys to the kingdom were bestowed onto Cronin who was very proud to have been given the reins over the movie. It was initially devised as a short film, then developed into a TV series, but, eventually, Cronin asserted to Rock Salt that a feature was required to tell such a poignant story.
In 2018, Eleven also holds a certain resonance given global political unrest and creaky international relations between the big superpowers.
“We now live in this world with crazy Donald Trump sort of prodding Putin in the belly and pissing off the Chinese. We live in a very precarious time,” Cronin opines.
Creating from behind the camera – despite its rigorous workload (he says it almost killed him putting the finishing touches on) – is something Cronin is interested in pursuing further
“I love playing villains – it was a great honour working the likes on Tom Cruise – but when you actually bring a human interest story of such poignancy it’s definitely a higher calling,” he says.
Next weekend, one full week after the Armistice, Eleven will be available on digital platforms such as Sky Store, Amazon and Netflix, iTunes. As a single dad with two small girls, aged 10 and 11, Cronin is looking forward – until he begins shooting for another project – to kicking back with his family who he barely saw during production.
“I promised I would take them away to a log cabin and just play monopoly all day or something and have a bit of a life back.”