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BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Eddie Redmayne is ready to stand up for his rights in blistering courtroom drama 


Eddie Redmayne has turned radical! The actor portrays Tom Hayden, a towering figure of 1960s activism, in Aaron Sorkin’s thrilling and energetic exploration of the court case that has become enshrined in U.S. history as The Trial Of The Chicago 7.

Hayden and a who’s who of American anti-war and civil rights protesters were charged with conspiracy and incitement to riot for disrupting the Democratic Party National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

The radicalism of the era then exploded into the courtroom of Judge Julius Hoffman, whose behaviour towards the defendants and defence counsel was so outrageous he was condemned by Chicago’s legal establishment (Frank Langella gets him bang on).

Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden and Mark Rylance as William Kunstler in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden and Mark Rylance as William Kunstler in The Trial of the Chicago 7

There were so many big name revolutionaries in the dock that one of them commented it was like ‘the Academy Awards of protests’.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 will surely end up at the centre of this awards season, with attention being paid to Redmayne’s co-stars, the creative team and his own stirring performance as Hayden.

Before accepting the part, the Oscar-winner said he knew little about that period of American history; and even less about the self-described ‘Native American boy from the Midwest’ who believed in justice and equality for all, and went on to marry Jane Fonda.

The film’s been in the works for 15 years and has had many iterations of casts and directors. Two years ago, Redmayne was brought on board. He and wife Hannah Bagshawe ‘were packed up and ready to fly out to film’ when the project fell through.

But a year later, it was back on again. So last autumn, Redmayne found himself on trial with an assortment of co-defendants, portrayed by a mouthwatering ensemble cast.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong are hippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. 

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, whom Judge Hoffman ordered to be gagged and shackled during proceedings — a move so shocking that Seale’s trial was separated from the main proceedings.

Redmayne was also reunited with Mark Rylance — a champion of his early career — who took the part of defence lawyer William Kunstler.

Redmayne portrays a towering figure of 1960s activism in the Aaron Sorkin drama

Redmayne portrays a towering figure of 1960s activism in the Aaron Sorkin drama

The drama also stars Yahya Abdul Mateen II as Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale,  Ben Shenkman as Leonard Weinglass and Mark Rylance as William Kuntsler

The drama also stars Yahya Abdul Mateen II as Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale,  Ben Shenkman as Leonard Weinglass and Mark Rylance as William Kuntsler

The film's been in the works for 15 years and has had many iterations of casts and directors

The film’s been in the works for 15 years and has had many iterations of casts and directors 

But even while making the small budget movie ‘you felt the thing might collapse, daily’ Redmayne recalled.

Since filming completed nine months ago ‘it’s become more eerily relevant, day by day’. Not only are we seeing ‘mirror images with what took place in 1968 and 1969’ but ‘there was also a flu pandemic’ (Hong Kong flu).

Redmayne said he was moved by something Fonda wrote about Hayden at the time of his memorial in 2017, a year after his death. 

‘She said he whispered to her, the day before he died, that seeing people willing to die for their beliefs changed him for ever.’ Redmayne, a father of two, said he thought he knew what drove Hayden to take a stand: Integrity.’

The actor won his Academy Award for his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything. 

He also garnered critical acclaim for The Danish Girl, in which he portrayed transgender pioneer Einar Wegener, an artist who in the 1920s became Lili Ebe after undergoing one of the first recorded gender-reassignment surgeries.

Redmayne stressed that he had never taken a role for political reasons. ‘I was compelled by the stories,’ he told me.

‘Similarly with this,’ he added of The Trial Of The Chicago 7, which Netflix will screen from October 16. Which does not mean he doesn’t have political views. 

‘I’d just rather focus my attention on what my job is, which is telling stories,’ he said. ‘If those stories can have an effect and shift people’s opinions …’ Well, then, he’s happy.

Like Hayden, he’s aware of the ‘ramifications’ of taking action. ‘Speaking out can end up doing damage to the things you believe in, rather than helping,’ he said. ‘What I try to do generally is keep my head down.’

Political activists Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden during an anti-nuclear demonstration in New York

Political activists Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden during an anti-nuclear demonstration in New York

The Chicago Seven and their lawyers outside the courthouse where they were on trial for conspiracy and inciting a riot

The Chicago Seven and their lawyers outside the courthouse where they were on trial for conspiracy and inciting a riot 

But not always. For instance, he was angered that people with Motor Neurone Disease weren’t put on the extremely vulnerable list during the pandemic.

As a patron of the Motor Neurone Disease Association he found that ‘truly shocking’, so he wrote to his MP.

Another thing he stood up for was transgender rights, making a statement in support following comments by J.K. Rowling, whom he knows through playing Newt Scamander in her Fantastic Beasts films. (He’s back on set at the moment, shooting a third movie.)

He said he has many ‘trans friends and colleagues’ who are ‘having their human rights challenged around the world and facing discrimination on a daily basis’.

Though he disagreed with Rowling’s comments on the issue, he was alarmed by the ‘vitriol’ hurled at her on social media, which he termed ‘absolutely disgusting’, and which prompted him to write her a private note.

However, Redmayne felt that the insults to trans people on social media is ‘equally disgusting’.

He said: ‘Similarly, there continues to be a hideous torrent of abuse towards trans people online and out in the world that is devastating.’

Over the past six months, Redmayne said he had become ‘so immersed in my little ones’ — children Iris, four, and Luke, two — that it felt ‘extraordinarily strange’ being back on set. (Fantastic Beasts 3 shot for just one day before being closed due to lockdown.)

‘We’re being tested several times a week; we are wearing masks for rehearsal; we’re in bubbles,’ he said. ‘It does make you extra careful.’

TV’s next big trial: the Wimbledon Common murder

The bungled undercover operation into the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common in 1992 is being made into a TV drama.

The young mum was stabbed repeatedly in front of her two-year-old son, who was the only witness. Prime suspect Colin Stagg, who spent a year in custody, was eventually formally exonerated and awarded more than £700,000 compensation.

The four-part Channel 4 drama is set to star Harry Treadaway. 

Actor Eddie Marsan at Paramount Theatre in Hollywood, California, in 2016

Actor Harry Treadaway is set to star in the four-art drama

The four-part Channel 4 drama is set to star Eddie Marsan (left) and Harry Treadaway (right)

The 36-year-old star of Penny Dreadful and Mr Mercedes has been cast as Detective Inspector Keith Pedder, who led the controversial ‘honey-trap’ investigation which involved an officer, calling herself Lizzie James, covertly setting up a pen-pal ruse to try to entrap Stagg into confessing to the heinous crime.

An Old Bailey judge called the Met’s treatment of Stagg ‘thoroughly reprehensible’.

My Name Is Lizzie has already announced that Niamh Algar, who starred in The Virtues on C4 and Calm With Horses (one of my favourite recent British independent films) will play the policewoman ordered to worm her way into Stagg’s life.

And I understand that award-winning Marsan, who plays Terry the punch-drunk boxer in Hollywood TV series Ray Donovan, and who has been in films ranging from Mike Lee’s Happy-Go-Lucky to Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, is in talks to portray Stagg in the production written by Emilia di Girolamo and directed by BAFTA-winner Niall MacCormick.

Pedder retired from the force to write two books about the Nickell killing. 

He claimed that Scotland Yard tried to sabotage his efforts by making him a scapegoat for the lengthy, wasted hunt. 

In 2008, schizophrenic serial rapist and double murderer Robert Napper admitted the manslaughter of Rachel on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Young stars shooting to success

Her performance as Lady Diana Spencer in The Crown won’t be unveiled for another six weeks, but already Emma Corrin has begun her ascent towards stardom.

The actress has been named one of Screen International’s Stars Of Tomorrow. The film industry daily’s annual list has been pretty accurate at predicting who will soar (previous honorees include Emily Blunt, John Boyega and Jodie Comer).

The 24-year-old Corrin is breathtakingly good as Diana in the show, in which she’s first spotted wearing a Midsummer Night’s Dream forest nymph costume when she meets Josh O’Connor’s Prince Charles.

Emma Corrin (pictured) has been named one of Screen International's Stars Of Tomorrow

Emma Corrin (pictured) has been named one of Screen International’s Stars Of Tomorrow

Corrin joins a list of 15 actors (there are also writers, directors and producers) selected by Screen International with backing from Amazon Prime Video. They will be interviewed on October 5 — a limited number can register to watch the webinar.

Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn has been selected for her debut role in Lovers Rock, part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology set in and around West London. 

St. Aubyn plays Martha, who sneaks out of the family home to attend a Saturday night reggae party. The film’s so joyous, and it’s underpinned by a brilliant soundtrack.

Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn has been selected for her debut role in Lovers Rock

Max Harwood also graces the list for his title role in EEverybody's Talking About Jamie

Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn (left) has been selected for her debut role in Lovers Rock while Max Harwood (right) also graces the list for his title role in the film musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

All five Small Axe films will be shown on BBC 1 soon, though its opening film, a magnificent, full-length feature called Mangrove, about the trial of the so-called Mangrove Nine, will also open the BFI London Film Festival on October 7. Lovers Rock is in the festival, too; on October 18.

Max Harwood, who has already featured on these pages, also graces the list for his title role in the splashy film musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

It’s based on the show that became a hit at the Crucible in Sheffield before transferring to the West End. The Jamie picture, also starring Richard E. Grant, will open in the New Year.

■ For more information visit the Screen’s website (screendaily.com) or go to https://mbi.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_hzWywfQWSxGxUZjAWWcnNg

Watch out for…

Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze who star in director and writer Channing Godfrey Peoples’ film Miss Juneteenth. 

It’s a poignant, bittersweet story about Turquoise (Beharie), a single mother living in Texas with her daughter Kai (Chikaeze), who wants the teen to follow in her footsteps and win the annual Juneteenth pageant.

However, Kai can see that being crowned Miss Juneteenth did not help her mother achieve the American Dream. 

Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze star in director and writer Channing Godfrey Peoples' film Miss Juneteenth

Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze star in director and writer Channing Godfrey Peoples’ film Miss Juneteenth

Juneteenth — June 19 — marks the day, in 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, one of the deepest parts of the former Confederacy, to tell enslaved African-Americans that the Civil War was over and they were free … two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The film particularly resonated with Black Lives Matter protesters in America this summer. Beharie’s face is etched with the desperate hope of a mother who doesn’t want her daughter to mess up her life — like she did. 

Many will remember Beharie as Rachel Robinson in the movie 42, which starred the late Chadwick Boseman as baseball icon Jackie Robinson. Juneteenth opens in cinemas today and is also available digitally.

Lots of buzz about new film Supernova, written and directed by Harry Macqueen, and starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. 

The two actors play lovers who take to the highways of England in an old camper van to visit people and places important to them during their 20-year relationship. 

It’s a tale of farewell because Tucci’s character, a novelist, has early-onset dementia and doesn’t want to be a burden on his partner. 

I’ve seen the film and the tenderness the two stars show towards each other is heartbreaking. Supernova will screen at the BFI London Film Festival next month, before going on general release in cinemas on November 27.

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