New Movie Ideas that Need to Happen: History

Part one in a series on interesting topics that haven't made it to the big screen...yet. This week: historical figures.

Reboots. Remakes. Reimaginings…and endless, endless sequels.

Why do we keep making movies on the same characters and stories when there are so many fantastic books, ideas and characters out there just waiting to jump on the big screen?

As much as I love some of the characters who keep getting the reboot treatment, it is also a good thing to give these a rest for a while. Take some time in between sequels and actually come up with some good, new stories. See what else is out there.

For the remainder of the month of February, I want to pitch some ideas from both history and fiction, well known or obscure that haven’t yet been the subject of a “major motion picture,” but really need to be.

This week: History-Driven Stories:

The Movie: Mad Jack

The Pitch: A group of British commuters are riding on an afternoon train when an older man tosses his briefcase out the window midway through the trip as if it were nothing. While they look at this old man, little do they know this is John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming “Mad Jack” Churchill (no relation to Winston).

The man who was a news reporter, model, and movie extra. The man who stormed the beaches in World War II with a broadsword, longbow, and bagpipes, because “any officer who goes into battle without a sword is improperly dressed.”

The man who is the only one in that war to kill an enemy soldier with an arrow. The man who faced the Germans in one battle by playing the bagpipes until he was knocked out by a grenade and captured.

The man who escaped two German prisoner camps, and was bitterly disappointed to learn the Americans had ended the war with the A-Bomb before he could get back to it, causing him to declare if it “wasn’t for those Damn Yanks” they could have kept the war going another ten years!

The man who after his service in the military became an avid surfer, and was the first to ride previously untamed waves with a homemade surfboard.

Finally, the old man who liked to toss his briefcase into his own garden on the way home from work each day so he wouldn’t have to schlep it back from the train to the house.

"Mad Jack" Churchill fought in World War II with a longbow and sword. You can see his sword in hand in the far right of the beach-storming photo. Image: Wiki Commons.

The Movie: The Wreck of La Belle

The Pitch: This one could be told in retrospect from a fictional character based on real passengers from this ill-fated voyage.

In the mid-1700s, a family in France comes to visit the deathbed of an aging relative. Although French, he is covered in the tattoos of the now-extinct Karankawa Indians (a Texas coastal tribe). This man was raised by the tribe after being shipwrecked in the area.

He tells the story of the ship he was on, La Belle. La Belle was one of four ships under the leadership of French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, who was sent by King Louis XIV in 1684 to find the mouth of the Mississippi River to establish colonies, build a trade route, and find silver.

Yeah, they missed.

La Salle’s ships were mostly lost to pirates and natural disasters, with the only one surviving, La Belle, sailing right past Mississippi to what is now the Texas Coast where it sank in a storm. By then, many of the passengers had died of illness and other hardships, and when the remaining crewmembers were all funned out, they murdered La Salle.

La Belle sat on the ocean floor for more than 300 years when it was uncovered in 1995. It is now a huge part of the Bullock Museum in Texas. The narrator, of course, is fictional but the real-life story of this ship is one wild ride.

This last character I read about in a British travel magazine a few years ago, and recently read a little more about him in an article in The History Vault.

The Movie: The Eccentric Life of John Mytton, Esquire

The Pitch: Where do you start on Parliament member John Mytton? Well, he was “quirky.” Basically, he was bat crap crazy, but in the early 1800s, wealthy people weren’t often regarded as mentally ill as the common folk were.

Mytton went to…and was expelled from…some of the best schools for things like fighting the teachers, to leaving horses in the bedrooms of his private tutors as a practical joke. Naturally, he was later elected to Parliament, but found it boring and only attended one session for about a half hour.

What he did love was money and madness. He rode a horse into Lemington Town Hall on a bet, jumping on horseback over several diners.

He hunted naked if he go too hot, and owned at least 2,000 dogs, some of which were served steak and champagne and wore costumes. Others he personally fought to teach them how to be tough.

He four-wheeled it with his carriages, jumping a tollgate at one time. One dinner party, he arrived on the back of a bear, resulting in him getting bitten on the leg because bears don't like to be ridden into formal dinner parties. He even tried to cure his hiccups by setting his shirt on fire. From what I read, it worked but I wouldn't recommend it.

He went through wine, women and money, all with disastrous results. In the History Vault article, he downed around eight bottles of port a day, but killed one of his horses after making it drink a bottle of this same libation. He eventually died in debtor’s prison in 1834.

It should be no surprise Mytton had also earned the nickname “Mad Jack,” which seems to be the moniker of choice for larger than life Brits.

Yes, these are all real people and events. I’ve even visited the La Belle myself in its cofferdam when it was still being excavated, and have a bust of Mad Jack on our shelf right next to a bust of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes.

There was also a streaking run named after Mytton at one time. There are books, YouTube videos, elaborate multi-media exhibits and articles about them, yet no big budget movies.

Wouldn’t it be fun if there were?

Next Week: Comic book titles seeking a good script.

Header image: Wiki Commons
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