James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson sign up for BBC film Five Minutes Of Heaven
Update – 29 May 2008: this press release has been updated to include the casting of Liam Neeson.
James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson are to return to Belfast to begin filming a new film commissioned by BBC Drama Northern Ireland.
It is being made by Big Fish Films, in association with Ruby Films, for BBC Two with co-financing from Northern Ireland Screen.
Pathe will act as the international distributor for the film outside the UK; Element will be the distributor in Ireland.
Nesbitt and Neeson will begin filming Five Minutes Of Heaven, a one-off film that explores aspects of Northern Ireland's troubled past and the challenges the future holds in coming to terms with it.
Written by Guy Hibbert (Omagh), Five Minutes Of Heaven is a fictional work of drama. The first act is based on real events.
In 1975, 17-year-old Alistair Little, a member of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Forces) murdered a 19-year-old Catholic, Jim Griffin, in Lurgan. He was arrested two weeks later, along with three others involved in the shooting, and convicted. He served 12-and-a-half years in prison.
Jim's murder was witnessed by his 11-year-old brother, Joe Griffin, and the impact of Jim's death destroyed his family, who could not come to terms with the loss.
Guy Hibbert explains: "The opening of the film is essentially an accurate, dramatised reconstruction of the events leading to the murder in 1975.
"The action of the remainder of the film, set in present day, is fiction but based on their emotional response to the fictional situations their characters have been placed in, following close liaison with both men."
Guy continues: "The impact of the drama is stronger still, as the story is about two real people who stand up and say it the way it is.
"It was important to get their full permission and co-operation. I have created this drama in their image, using their words and reactions.
"Working separately with both Alistair and Joe on the fictional areas provided a unique way of telling this story, and revealed there were no easy answers."
Joe Griffin is played by James Nesbitt (Murphy's Law and Bloody Sunday). The role of Alistair, 30 years on, is played by Liam Neeson (Star Wars, Michael Collins).
Patrick Spence, Head of Drama for BBC Northern Ireland, says: "Northern Ireland is a society emerging from conflict.
"We wanted to develop and produce a single film, which, in a responsible way, marks part of that transition.
"We have done this by recording powerful personal testimonies of the two individuals whose lives have been determined by the Troubles."
BBC producer Stephen Wright says: "This film is not about finding a resolution or a happy ending.
"What we are attempting to achieve, in a balanced way, is to create a place where both men can tell their individual stories.
"Five Minutes Of Heaven is not about quick fixes but it does give us some insight into the difficult legacy of the past and the challenges it holds for the future."
The film will be directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall). Producer for Big Fish Films is Eoin O'Callaghan and, for the BBC, Stephen Wright.
Executive proudcers are Patrick Spence and Paul Trijbits (Bloody Sunday, Wind That Shakes The Barley and Touching The Void), and Cameron McCracken for Pathe.
Filming will begin at the end of May 2008 for five weeks in Belfast.
It was commissioned for BBC Two by Jane Tranter, Controller, Fiction, BBC, and Roly Keating, Controller, BBC Two.