25 September 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
Director Maurice Sweeney on shedding the “hagiography of Padraig Pearse” in TV3’s ‘Trial of the Century’
28 Apr 2016 : Seán Brosnan
'Trial of the Century'
With ‘Trial of the Century’ set to air on TV3 over three consecutive nights this weekend, we talk to director Maurice Sweeney about the series, which takes an imagined look at what would have happened had Padraig Pearse been afforded a trial after 1916.

Produced by Loosehorse Television and Treasure Entertainment and written by Hugh Travers (with Colin Murphy co-writing the second episode), ‘Trial of the Century’ is not only unique in that it offers an imagined, alternate history but the three-part series is also two parts drama, one-part contemporary jury as it book-ends with broadcaster Pat Kenny chairing a 12 person jury in the present day who are tasked with deciding on the fate of Pearse.

Sweeney however was sold on the story before it took on its unique form, with Cormac Hargadan conceiving the idea of what would happen had Pearse been put to the dock.

“I came on board very early – before the scripts were even written”, says Sweeney, won an IFTA Award in 2013 for ‘WB Yeats: No Country for Old Men’. “I thought this was a great chance to put a different perspective on the centenary proceedings; they say history is a dark room so sometimes you have to shine a light on it. I thought it was a very original idea so I jumped on it.”

Another man who jumped on the idea was Tom Vaughan Lawlor, who plays the lead role of Pearse.

“There were a few other actors in mind but Tom was always on the radar”, continues Sweeney. “He was, luckily, very quick in coming around to the idea. Tom brings his own audience I think and he is just a fantastic actor. But he is also surrounded by top Irish talent.”

This top Irish talent includes Andrew Bennett, Mark Huberman, David Heap and Jane Brennan. Aside from the very original subject matter and its’ genre-bending form, ‘Trial of the Century’ is also unique in that was mostly shot in sequence, an element of the production that Sweeney felt helped the actor’s performances.

“As we shot it in sequence, Tom sat in the dock for the first four or five days of shooting without having any dialogue”, says Sweeney. “This meant that he got to hear everything that was said about him and when he got a chance to defend himself, Tom really had a chance to unleash his talents. It was a very measured performance and it helped everyone else along too.”

The 12 day shoot mostly centred on one location – the Green Street Courthouse in Smithfield – was Sweeney concerned that this containment in one primary location could alienate an audience?

“We were worried about it being claustrophobic. It’s an intense piece with wall-to-wall dialogue but we had a great ensemble cast and there are enough characters coming in and out to offer a bit of breathing room. I think the script is very rich in its’ intelligence which is rare these days.”

As rich as the script is, what were the main difficulties in approaching a drama this is essentially re-writing history?

“It’s an imaginary leap but the main thing was to concentrate on the psyche of a guy who had lead a revolution. We were brave about it. We thought we would just go for it and not make excuses for our premise. It was a chance to get away from all the hagiography about Pearse and show him for all his faults and failures too.”

‘Trial of the Century’ will air over three consecutive nights on Saturday 30th April, Sunday 1st May and Monday 2nd May.

BS IFTN Profile: Maurice Sweeney
BS IFTN Filmography: Trial of the Century

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