Marlon Brando, Johnny Depp and John Hurt all headed to a small Irish village in the summer of 1995 – and they’d be leaving sooner than expected.

In the summer of 1995, the Irish village of Ballycotton was treated (if, ultimately, that’s the right word) to a taste of Hollywood. Situated in County Cork, it’s an area not known for hosting American films, but for a brief period of time, it had Marlon Brando, Johnny Depp, John Hurt and Debra Winger amongst its residents.

Unfortunately, there’d be precious little to show for it, with the project they were gathered there to make one of Hollywood’s most notorious unfinished movies of the 1990s. It’s quite a tale.

The idea was for a film called Divine Rapture. Originally intended to be situated in Italy, the screenplay was written by Glenda Ganis (a production designer by trade), and would have told of a woman who dies. Thing is, at her funeral, she would have stepped out of her coffin entirely alive, with the local community thus deifying her as a saint (as opposed to a woman with a disorder that slowed her heart rate).

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The script caught the attention of an American producer called Barry Navidi, and he set to try and bring it to the screen. He quickly saw there was a problem in locating a film with such religious tones to it in Italy, and the black comedy was duly switched to Ireland. And that’s where momentum started to gather.

As he told Empire magazine back in its October 1995 issue, Navidi had budgeted Divine Rapture at $5m, and it was to be the first feature he produced. The script was sent around in the hope of landing a name actor, and to say Navidi struck gold would be no understatement. Marlon Brando, who’d just been making the underappreciated Don Juan De Marco was keen, and in exchange for $1m, he was in.

The problem was that Brando had a small window to make the movie, given that he was due on the set of – ulp – The Island Of Dr Moreau not long afterwards. As such, the movie had to get going in early July 1995. Financing, though, was sliding into place. As Navidi explained to The Guardian, Brando’s involvement had knocked the price of the film up to $12m, but in came a company called CineFin that put significant investment in. Suddenly, there was $40m available to realise the movie. And that meant further high-profile names could get involved.

The Brando factor helped recruit them. He got on the blower to his Don Juan De Marco co-star Johnny Depp, who agreed to take on a part. He also gave Debra Winger a call, and she was set to take the title role. It wasn’t so plain sailing landing a director, with both Mike Newell (off the back of Four Weddings & A Funeral) and Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) already committed elsewhere. The job went to Thom Eberhardt (who’d helmed Without A Clue and Captain Ron).

It’d taken six years for Navidi to get the film to a stage where pre-production in Ireland could begin. It’d take six weeks for the whole thing to fall apart.

 

The production rolled into Ballycotton (pictured) in early summer 1995 to get the village ready for shooting. The script required a 1950s village, and thus some redressing of the area was involved, and a couple of weeks of pre-production too place. Gradually, the cast and crew moved into the area, with Brando the last to arrive, the day before shooting began. He informed his director he wanted to play the role wearing an orange wig, after shaving his hair.

Eberhardt described the look in the aforementioned Guardian piece as “like a dick with ears”.

Filming nonetheless got underway, and on the surface, all appeared to be going swimmingly. Under it, CineFin hadn’t sent over a single penny of its proposed investment though, the lion’s share of the film’s capital. It had a deal in place with Orion Pictures, worth – depending which report you follow – between $200m and $300m – but Orion itself was financially crashing. Turns out that CineFin wasn’t as good for the money as it had claimed.

The turning point was when Debra Winger’s agent went to collect her fee from CineFin’s Los Angeles office not long after filming began. It turned out that the given address wasn’t an office at all. It was a car park.

All around the production, financial commitments had been made. Notwithstanding the fact that two weeks’ worth of footage was in the can, many in the local community hadn’t been paid for their services. Brando had taken his $1m fee up front (although his total contract would have brought him $4m), but the other actors and crew members hadn’t. Worse, CineFin also held the rights, and that in part scuppered attempts to raise financing elsewhere.

With just 25 minutes of the film shot, Barry Navidi realised he had no choice by to pull the plug. On July 24th 1995, the production was shut down, with Navidi telling Empire “we just couldn’t afford it … by this time we couldn’t raise the money ourselves”.

There was a smattering of interest from other studios, given that the film was part done, but that ultimately petered out. Navidi, and many members of the cast and crew, had tried to pay local villagers for their work out of their own pockets. Many were still left with unpaid bills, and no film to show at the end of it all.

It was a high-profile collapse of a project, one that made news in the Hollywood trade press fast enough, but it’s laid dormant pretty much ever since. The closest it came to a revival was in 2012, when Barry Navidi nearly got it up and running with Geoffrey Rush taking on Brando’s role. The film would have been called Holy Mackerel that time around, but for reasons unknown, it never got off the launchpad and quietly disappeared.

Navidi at least did get his producer career running, working with Al Pacino on the likes of The Merchant Of Venice and Salome. But Divine Rapture remains a feature doomed never to be completed, and the 25 minutes or so of it that do exist, apparently never to be seen.

Certain images: BigStock

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