The story of Captain Matthew Webb – the first person to successfully swim the English Channel in 1875 – will be brought to life on the big screen in The Greatest Englishman, a Marathon Films production starring Warren Brown (Luther, Good Cop) as Captain Webb. The film is expected to hit cinema screens in late 2014.
Warren Brown is joined in the cast by British Independent Film Award (BIFA) best actor nominee Steve Oram (Sightseers, The World’s End), Terry Mynott (C4’s The Mimic), Hannah Tointon (The Inbetweeners, BBC2’s The Hour), Tom Stourton (E4’s Cardinal Burns) and newcomer Georgia Maguire (Love me till Monday), with the soundtrack by Mercury Prize nominees British Sea Power (“The best band in Britain” – Sunday Times).
In 1875 Captain Matthew Webb, a retired merchant seaman, survived fierce winds, treacherous currents and multiple jellyfish stings to swim from Dover to the shores of France, a crossing that took almost 22 hours and spanned 39 miles. The Channel would not be swum again for 36 years, and to this day more people have climbed Everest than successfully swum across the Channel.
Captain Webb’s achievement is all the more remarkable given it came before sport was a fully recognised industry; before the expertise and precautions found today had even been thought of. There was no sports equipment, psychologists or isotonic drinks. Purpose-built swimming pools were rare, and front crawl was only imported to the UK as a stroke in 1873. The Football Association was founded just 12 years prior, whilst the Channel Swimming Association was established 52 years after Webb’s first crossing. His coach was a self-proclaimed ‘swimming professor’ whose star turn was ‘smoking underwater’.
The Greatest Englishman tells the story of one man’s struggle to define himself. Beginning with Captain Webb diving into the water in Dover and concluding as he reaches the French coast, the film uses flashbacks to explore his motives and the character traits that drove him on as he braced high seas and furious winds.
Director Justin Hardy said: “Captain Webb is a largely forgotten British hero. He attempted to swim the English Channel when the very idea was seen as beyond impossible, equipped only with his moustache, doses of Brandy and a wire wool swimsuit. We want to tell the story of a classic underdog who fought against all odds to make it to the other side.”
Warren Brown said: “Being a part of this project has been a fantastic experience. Captain Webb was a brave and courageous man who made the impossible happen through sheer determination and courage and it has been an honour to bring his story to life.”
The Greatest Englishman is directed by multiple-award winning filmmaker Justin Hardy ( Relief of Belsen , 1066, City of Vice, 37 Days ), one of the UK’s foremost directors of historical films and winner of four Royal Television Society (RTS) awards and an Emmy and BAFTA nominee.
The screenplay is by Jemma Kennedy (Excellent Women (forthcoming adaptation of Barbara Pym’s novel), Frozen), and Director of Photography is Matt Wicks (Love me till Monday). The film is produced by Jack Fishburn and Muireann Price, who were shortlisted for the BFI London Film Festival (LFF) 2013’s Best British Newcomer Award for their debut feature, Love me till Monday.
The film is executive produced by James Salter for Marathon Films, who himself has swum the English Channel.