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Scriptwriter Kevin Brodbin on writing ‘The Siege of Jadotville’
23 Sep 2016 : Deirdre Hopkins
Richie Smyth’s debut feature project released to Irish cinemas earlier this week and is set to release to Netflix on October 7th of this year.

Dealing with the real-life 1961 battle between Irish UN troops and French and Belgian mercenaries in the Congo, Brodbin’s screenplay has been paramount in the process of earning acknowledgement for the Irish soldiers.

He talks us through how he came to learn about the siege, his process in crafting a compelling story for screen, and the core thematic elements which framed his approach.

IFTN: At which point did you become involved with the project?

Brodbin tells us he was involved in the project from the earliest stages, having begun in 2010 as a long-running passion project of Smyth’s.

“This was a rip-roaring story about the underdog that had a great universal sense to it. It’s not about our grandfathers' or great grandfathers' grudges; this was a thing all Irish people could be interested in because it’s a universal story. That’s what got me into it.”

What also attracted Brodbin to the project following further research was the role of the Irish as a neutral county in the dense political climate of the 1960s. He also read Declan Power’s title ‘Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army's Forgotten Battle’, which he says was one of a few resources at the time.

“It also put the Irish in a place we haven’t been before, which is the world stage. If you look at ‘61 it was all brewing. There was The Bay of Pigs, The Wall of Berlin, advisors were in Vietnam already and then there was the Congo. That’s the thing that I found fascinating—the Irish were involved in something which could have tipped us all into another World War.”

IFTN: Which elements were most important to you, approaching the script?

Patrick Quinlan’s son Leo was the first person to introduce Brodbin to the concept of strategy versus tactics, which became a core factor for him structuring the script thematically.

He tells us the on-screen characters of Conor Cruise O’Brien and Patrick Quinlan went on to represent strategy and tactics, respectively.

The second element which Brodbin carried through his work was a quote Quinlan adopted from German army officer Erwin Rommel, which goes, ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy.’

“Those were the two thematic things I latched onto and my job was to come up with a way to express that, not academically or have someone say it, but through the characters and their conflicts. That was the difficulty.”

IFTN: Are there many differences between historical accounts of the siege and the film?

Brodbin describes the process of gathering wider story elements such as the presence of uranium in Jadotville and its use in the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. It was in collating facts such as this that he found himself with enough material to explore how the events of the siege could be presented in a cinematic format.

“It’s not a literal retelling. It’s not a documentary. It’s about finding a structure where the story will grab you, keep pulling you in, drag you and build steam because you care about these characters. You want to know what happens to them and how those experiences make them feel.”

Differences between historical fact and the film include the meeting of Conor Cruise O’Brien and Patrick Quinlan for instance, which never actually happened. Brodbin asserts their face-to-face exchange in the film was essential as these characters are the focal points of representation for strategy and tactics.

The drinking scene between Quinlan and French Commander Falquez, played by Guillaume Canet was also based on an encounter which was actually had between Quinlan and a Swedish ally.

Brodbin tells us he felt this was a prime opportunity to have us meet the enemy before the battle and establish the cat-and-mouse dynamic between the characters in an almost western-style encounter.

IFTN: To what degree did the script change throughout the project?

He tells us redrafts of the script were largely shaped by the South African filming location. It was found on location for instance that a golf course overlooking the compound was not available. This impacted the structure of Brodbin’s action sequences, which in turn had to be reviewed by Smyth from a directorial perspective and redrafted again according to those creative needs.

In his closing comments on the project Brodbin tells us, “It’s not about being accurate, it’s about being true, and I hope and pray that what we’ve done is truthful.”

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