How Oscar nominee went into battle over his Spanish Civil War epic

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A real-life plot involving lawsuits, egos and a Frenchman in a balaclava has brought chaos to the filming of a movie by an Oscar-winning British director.

Michael Radford's Spanish-language film project, La Mula, has become such a disaster that the director, who is best known for his Academy Award-winning epic, Il Postino (The Postman), is seeking a High Court injunction against La Mula's Spanish co-producers Gheko Films preventing them from doing any further work on the film.

Since Il Postino, which received four Oscar nominations in 1994, Radford has worked with some of the biggest names in cinema.

La Mula, based on a best-selling novel by Juan Eslava Galan about a Spanish soldier who tries to keep alive a mule during the Spanish Civil War, was supposed to be one of the director's most cherished works, with some billing it as a potential new Il Postino.

The film was as a co-production between Gheko Films, Radford, Germany's Integral Films and Ireland's Subotica Entertainment, with British and Irish funding .

Problems kicked off in October last year with only days remaining of the shoot in Andalucia. Radford suspended filming over what he claimed were unsigned co-production agreements with Gheko Films, which was founded by British-born Bruce St Clair.

St Clair and his Spanish wife Alejandra Frade insisted the agreements had been signed and that they expected Radford and Subotica to deliver their side of the funding, predominantly through money provided by the UK Film Council and Irish Film Board.

When Radford didn't return to the shoot, Gheko drafted in French advertising director Sebastien Grousset to finish the filming, who allegedly wore a balaclava to conceal his identity.

Negotiations to resolve the dispute have failed. Radford says he stopped shooting because his crew were not being paid. When it became apparent he would be personally liable for the losses, he stopped the cameras rolling.

"[Gheko] announced I had abandoned the shoot and carried on shooting the picture. So I was going to incur all the debts and they weren't going to pay me and the film was continued without my assent," Radford says.

"As a result there is now an injunction from the High Court in England to stop Gheko Films from defaming me in the press saying that I had abandoned the shoot, and to stop them from any further work on the film, including distributing it or using my name in any way.

"It is extraordinary what is going on. They have put together... a rogue film because the little bits I saw were atrocious and bore no relation to what I was trying to do. After two and a half years of work, I never expected it would come to this. It has been the saddest experience of my life and extremely damaging to me professionally."

The dispute is complicated further because St Clair has written to Jeremy Hunt, the UK Culture Secretary, to try and get him to help retrieve £1.09m of investment they say they are owed by the UK Film Council, which the Government plans to close by 2012.

Frade and St Clair deny any wrongdoing. Court hearings have been delayed until next week.

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