Sir John Monash.
Producers Helen Leake and Gena Ashwell and director Bruce Beresford aim to start shooting Monash, a biopic of Sir John Monash, hailed by many as the foremost Allied military commander in World War 1, in Europe in the northern spring.
The screenplay is by Louis Nowra, who started collaborating with Leake in 2012. Beresford joined the project in the middle of last year.
Leake and her Dancing Road Productions partner Ashwell have secured investment from the UK and France and are confident of raising the rest of the budget in Australia, including the Producer Offset.
They plan to start shooting in France and England next May/June with a high-profile ensemble cast of Aussies and Brits. Screen Australia has provided story development funding.
Explaining the rationale for the film, Leake tells IF: “Monash was a winner, a hero, unlike the Gallipoli story which was about loss. As Bruce said, ‘We have to make this film because there is a whole generation who know nothing about him or WW1 generally.’”
Nowra based a lot of his research on letters written by Monash, who was born in Melbourne on June 27 1865 and studied arts and engineering at Melbourne University.
Through his career he had to battle the establishment that looked down on him due to his German – Jewish background.
He became a partner in a bridge building firm, which collapsed leaving him heavily in debt, and later worked on engineering bridges, railways and other large construction projects.
In 1884, aged 19, he joined the newly formed University Company, D Company, 4th Battalion, Victorian Rifles.
When the war broke out in 1914 he enlisted with the AIF, aged 49,and was among the first under fire at Gallipoli. He was the only Australian brigade commander among the original troops not killed or evacuated as wounded.
By 1918 he was in charge of the entire Australian Corps and was knighted by King George V for his heroics in in the Battle of Hamel Hill, a victory that broke the spirit of the German Army.
Leake says there will be one big battle scene but most of the narrative deals with “the battle behind the battle.”
Among his ground-breaking moves were his use of tanks, deploying diversionary tactics such as noise and smoke and building scale models of battle fields so his troops knew where they were heading.
Ashwell, who joined Leake in 2014, tells IF: “As we move to production on this important film of scale, I am grateful that I have been given the time to develop my skills and have an excellent mentor in Helen.
“Through my mentors and working with Helen for the past five years, I have been taught the right way and grown in confidence enormously. It’s a hard road and not for everyone, but with experienced support around you, it is very rewarding.”
Last year journalist Peter Greste and Artemis Media produced Monash and Me, a two-part documentary for the ABC.