22 September 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
‘Trial of the Century’ writer Hugh Travers talks to IFTN
28 Apr 2016 : Seán Brosnan
Writer Hugh Travers
With ‘Trial of the Century’ about to hit TV3 screens, we talk to lead writer Hugh Travers about the conception of the three part series.

Produced by Loosehorse Television and Treasure Entertainment, directed by Maurice Sweeney and written by Travers (with Colin Murphy co-writing the second episode), ‘Trial of the Century’ is described as a provocative take on historical storytelling, as Padraig Pearse - the leader of the 1916 rebellion - is put in the dock. In a trial that he was never afforded in real life, Pearse must defend the actions that changed the course of Irish history.

Not only is ‘Trial of the Century’ 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.

The project is based on an original idea by Cormac Hargadan of Loosehorse Television who took it to Treasure Entertainment, whom Travers had worked with on numerous occasions. The idea was there, the form it would take wasn’t.

“The gem of an idea came from Cormac but when I came on board it was developed a little so that we only focused on the trial of Pearse, rather than all the 1916 leaders”, says Travers. “I always knew the basic concept but the specifics of how it was going to operate still had to be refined. We thought maybe we should have some documentary segments to give context to the piece but in the end we decided that we should just have the first two parts as a stand-alone drama. We knew it would work as we were aware this would be screening in May so we thought people would be very familiar with 1916 by then.”

Travers has previously written acclaimed short films such as ‘An Cosc’ and ‘Crossword’, which were both produced by ‘Trial of the Century’ producer Claire McCaughley. Aside from his previous positive experiences of working with Treasure, Travers also states that it was Hargadan’s idea that attracted him.

“It was a fresh take and I know everyone was talking about fresh takes on 1916 but this was just so original and gave us an opportunity to do something that was purely hypothetical”, continues Travers. “We are re-imagining history and I thought that was great as rather than get bogged down with what actually happened, it was an exciting opportunity to be imaginative.”

With a character as nationally revered as Pearse, Travers states he wanted to distance his character from the historical portrait of the man. Instead, he decided to focus on a more blemished version of the Irish nationalist.

“There was no point trying to write the iconic Pearse”, says the writer. “We wanted to create a genuine character. I was never going to create a one hundred percent accurate depiction of Pearse because how well can we know any character from history? So, all we could do was create a flawed human being that the audience could relate to. We wanted people to understand why Pearse was so influential and why so many people followed him.”

The hypothetical approach taken by Travers also poses another problem – when do you draw the line in this alternate history?

“As much as possible, myself and Colin Murphy (co-writer of the second episode) tried to base as much as the texts in this fictional trial on actual things people have said. Despite this being fictional, we really wanted to stay true to historical sources of the time and we actually based a lot of the text on material such as Lady Gregory’s letters to W.B Yeats and that really helped us in fleshing out the story.”

Pearse is played by IFTA-winning Dublin actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor – perhaps one of the more recognisable faces on Irish television over the past five years after his performances in RTÉ’s ‘Love/Hate’ and ‘Charlie’.

“Tom coming on board was a game-changer for us. It gave everyone life, “ says Travers, who also writes for TV3 drama ‘Red Rock’. “We always knew the success of this project was hinging on who was going to play Pearse. We were happy that we had an interesting sketch of Pearse on the page but we needed someone to bring it to life and Tom was able to bring his skills to the table. He gave the character extra dimensions and charisma that we couldn’t write – it had to come from the actor.”

With ‘Trial of the Century’ airing in a very prominent slot on TV3, is Travers nervous how the series will be received?

“It’s great to have the show going out over three consecutive nights. I think it really creates an event rather than a drawn-out series. That’s how we wanted this to feel. Some people might be critical of the notion of having Pearse on trial but I think people should tune in and make their own minds up. That’s the whole point of it really. We wanted to reflect the debate happening over the Rising.”

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

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