Ballycotton: the Godfather of all let-downs

A village in County Cork this week waved farewell to Marlon Brando, to Johnny Depp ... and to fame. Alan Murdoch reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Noel McCarthy is back to doing what he mostly did before they all arrived - the stars, the directors, the fans. He is chatting to his mates on the waterfront by Ballycotton harbour. In the past few weeks McCarthy, an unemployed builder, has walked in Marlon Brando's shadow. The film Divine Rapture, filming in Ballycotton until its backers pulled the plug earlier this week, was a mini economic boom for the flexible Mr McCarthy. In turns he played a fisherman, worked as a security guard and featured as an extra in a bus scene. "I met them all. They were all very nice people," he says respectfully of the film entourage.

Behind him are the last most visible signs of the production which in the last six weeks transformed this small village into an outpost of Hollywood: the film's catering marquee, a props van and trucks loaded with film equipment about to return to Britain.

Still working but without payment, dismantling sets after two weeks employed on the film, is John Roberts, a local fisherman whose ageing blue van carries the film's name spray-painted on the door. "I don't know if we'll be getting paid or not." As we speak a request comes in for him to return his radio to the crew.

Marshalling and working on security, Mr Roberts encountered the more fanatical starstruck fans. "One woman from London who was mad into Marlon Brando came over for five days. She persevered and persevered day after day so she could just shake hands with him. Finally she succeeded. She was over the moon.

"Then we had to keep back hundreds of teenage girls when Johnny Depp [who played an investigative reporter] arrived. That was very tough work!" he smiles.

Ballycotton, stunningly situated at the southern tip of a 10-mile wide glassy blue bay in County Cork, is bemused by the film's sudden demise but in a terribly good- natured way. The arrival of the film had taken the village back to a 1950s simplicity. The modern telephone box was concealed behind a mock house extension, while a period wooden version appeared in its place nearby. An instant "half" cottage appeared in wood, while Connolly's grocers overnight became Curly Cuts hairdressers'. The Palace ballroom became the Flamingo lingerie and bra factory, where Debra Winger was supposed to have worked as a machinist.

The film attracted some powerful opposition. Dr John Magee, the Bishop of Cloyne and a former secretary to three Popes, forbade the use of the village's Catholic church, so confessional booths were installed in a deconsecrated Protestant one just down the street. The local enthusiasm for the movie rather than Catholic constrictions was evident in the reaction to the bishop's attack.

The locals didn't object to their village being remade. They thought Ballycotton was set to join Cong (location of John Ford's The Quiet Man), Leenane (scene of Richard Harris's starring role in The Field) and Dingle (David Lean's Ryan's Daughter) among Irish villages made famous as movie settings. Eighteen movies were made in Ireland last year, attracted by the government's generous tax treatment of production costs.

Liam Neeson has been in Dublin for weeks making a film about the nationalist Michael Collins. What Dublin could do, there was no reason Ballycotton could not do better: enter Brando.

Everything seemed to be going so well to begin with. Brando got excited when he found he might have some Irish ancestry and said he was seriously contemplating taking citizenship. Mr Connolly says that away from the media Brando was courteous, gentle and friendly. "He was always talking to the kids, he was very good with them."

The star became so attached to the luxury Georgian mansion (rent IRpounds 4,000 a week) that there were rumours that he was thinking of buying it. It was not to be.

Things started to go sour when the British tabloid press photographed the rotund septuagenarian figure in his voluminous underwear. Then on Tuesday Brando swept out of the mansion's wrought iron gates bound for Paris. Being ignominiously dumped in the middle of filming in the middle of nowhere is probably not the treatment Brando expected in the twilight of his 45-year cinematic career. But Divine Rapture's prospects never seemed great.

The finance for the film came from the Paris-based Cine-Fin, an ambitious but largely untested film finance company. Rumours that the film - thought to have had a budget of about $16m - was in trouble first surfaced about 10 days ago. The final collapse was preceded by the sudden disappearance from Cork last Friday of one of the Cine-Fin executives.

The film itself, which took seven years to develop from script to production, seemed too flimsy to support the heavyweight cast assembled to play it. Apart from Brando, Depp and Winger, there was John Hurt, who was philosophical but disconsolate in residence in the lobby of the Bayview Hotel. The screenplay centred on a priest (played by Brando) who was convinced a miracle had occurred after a machinist in the lingerie factory (Winger), who died during love-making, came back to life at her funeral.

Yesterday was meant to be Ballycotton's big day, a huge wedding with 40 local extras mingling convivially with the stars. Instead, the dozens of disappointed locals, from hoteliers to security staff, are owed an estimated IRpounds 125,000 a a result of the film's collapse.

And Brando? The great man is unlikely to have escaped unscathed financially either. It is rumoured he is still owed $3m of his $4m fee. He probably will not be coming back to Ballycotton for quite a while.

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