Kidman should not star in 'immoral' film about our Emma, say family

Relatives furious at portrayal of British aid worker who married a rebel warlord and died in Africa

She was a convent-educated girl from Middle England who worked with the downtrodden in Africa. He was a Western-educated Sudanese warlord. She had looks. He had charisma. They fell in love and were married.

She was a convent-educated girl from Middle England who worked with the downtrodden in Africa. He was a Western-educated Sudanese warlord. She had looks. He had charisma. They fell in love and were married.

It is a story made for Hollywood. But a new blockbuster film of the life of Emma McCune, starring Nicole Kidman and directed by Tony Scott, the brother of Gladiator director Ridley, has run into trouble even before filming starts.

Johnny McCune yesterday denounced the portrayal of his sister Emma, saying it made her out as a reckless dilettante in Africa and a "wanton thrill-seeker" addicted to serial love affairs with black men. He said: "I suspect Nicole Kidman has no idea that she is about to embark on a project which makes the real cast of the story - my family - saddened and shocked."

Mr McCune also accused the American academic Deborah Scroggins, who wrote the book Emma's War on which the film is based, of "underhand and sloppy journalism".

"How would the Scott brothers or Deborah Scroggins feel if I turned the tragedy of their children into a book and a film lining their own pockets? It's immoral," he said. He claims Ms Scroggins falsely used his name to gain access to family friends and colleagues, and often invented salacious details such as Emma's fondness for red mini-skirts. "The problem for my family is that we have not been consulted on our own story - no facts have been checked."

The tale of the convent girl and the warlord is so remarkable that there seems little need of exaggeration. When Emma McCune arrived in Sudan in the late 1980s it was, as it is now, one of the most remote and undeveloped areas of the world. The Muslim government in the north was opposed by the non-Muslim rebels in the south, where Emma was to work.

Emma found work in Sudan with the Canadian charity Street Kids International, which set up schools in remote areas. She overcame the shortage of teachers by persuading frightened locals to teach in remote areas in return for soap and salt. They held classes under trees and Emma worked tirelessly to provide them with books, chalk and pencils.

Her vivacious personality and physical bravery made her a celebrity in Sudan - she was called the "Tall Woman from Little Britain" - and villagers drew pictures of her on the walls of their huts.

During her time there, Emma met Riek Machar, a Sudanese rebel leader, in a Nairobi hotel. Machar was a charismatic soldier who had studied engineering in England. The attraction between them was instant.

Machar's officials were suspicious that she was a spy, and it was a year before they met again. In January 1991, Machar sent a message inviting her to his headquarters. When she arrived, he asked if she knew of a Nuer myth: that a left-handed Nuer chief, like him, would marry a white woman. It was his way of proposing.

In June 1991, Emma married Machar. She knew he already had a wife and two children. "Imagine what the nuns would say if they knew I'd entered a polygamous marriage," she told her mother.

The couple lived on an army camp four hours by plane from Nairobi. Conditions were harsh. Emma was bitten by scorpions and suffered debilitating amoebic dysentery. Two months after the marriage, Machar decided to lead a breakaway faction of his guerrilla group. Emma found herself cut off from the outside world. The UN had given her a typewriter to help with her educational projects. Now she used it to type up manifestos for Machar.

Street Kids International sacked Emma in November 1991. It was a severe blow, as she was passionately committed to her schools.

Her life was now in danger. She went everywhere with an armed bodyguard. When rival troops ambushed Machar's men in 1993, Emma was forced to flee amid a hail of gunfire. She and Machar returned to their home to find a dead body on their doorstep and bullet holes in their books. The civil war intensified. There were accusations of massacres on both sides. Emma discovered she was pregnant and moved to Nairobi, putting down proper roots for the first time.

Her happiness came to a sudden end. As she drove to see a friend in Nairobi, Emma's car crashed into a minibus. It is still not known whether it was an accident or murder. She called out "My baby, my baby", and the rescuers wasted valuable time looking for a child they assumed was in the car. Emma and her unborn son died on the way to hospital.

Last night, the author of Emma's War, Ms Scroggins, denied that her book "sexed up" the aid worker's story. She said: "There is nothing sloppy about my journalism. Sex is part of the story - she had a passionate affair and married Riek Machar - that's what made her different.

"Emma helped me get to the essence of Sudan - she opened up the amazing people and passions of that place to me."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific