Casement (An Original Screenplay)

Author: John Banville, with an introduction by Bridget English

Roger Casement’s life has all the marks of a great biopic: as a member of the British Foreign Service, he was knighted for his reports of human rights violations in the Congo and Peru, but then became critical of empire, aligning himself with the Irish nationalist cause before being hung for high treason after betraying Britain by colluding with the Germans during World War I. Casement has been the topic of over thirty biographies, numerous books, poems, and articles—including a poem by W.B Yeats, a novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, and an RTÉ radio drama by Patrick Mason starring Ciarán Hynes—but strangely, not a feature film. The cinematic potential of Casement’s life has not gone unnoticed by Irish writer John Banville and filmmaker/novelist Neil Jordan, who attempted to get a film made in 2001. Despite the obvious popular interest in the topic, the film was never realized and the screenplay has not appeared in print until now, a good fifteen years after it was written.

One can only guess the reasons why Banville’s script never made it to the big screen. Perhaps, at the height of the Celtic Tiger, when the script was written, film companies were more interested in seizing the capitalist zeitgeist of the present than they were the ghosts of Ireland’s past. In the New York Review of Books, Banville noted that the reason why Casement is “largely forgotten, or ignored, in Ireland and elsewhere” has to do with the shadow cast over Casement’s memory by the controversies surrounding the “Black Diaries,” Casement’s written accounts of the injustices he witnessed in the Congo and Peru, the contents of which include details of his homosexual encounters, some with young boys, details which Irish republicans and others have regarded as forgeries created by the British government to ensure that Casement would not become a martyr after his death.[1]

The publication of Banville’s film script here in Breac more than a decade after it was written provides readers with a fresh perspective from which to view Casement’s life and even possibly sheds some light on Banville’s own supposedly ambivalent attitude towards Irish history. Banville, who has famously eschewed classification as an Irish writer and whose novels have largely resisted the literary-historical impulse of so many contemporary Irish novelists, here exhibits a keen interest in the ways that past is recorded and in the forgotten histories that have been marginalized by grand historical narratives. The Roger Casement that emerges from the pages of Banville’s manuscript is a paradoxical character, one who is hopelessly idealistic in his work as a human rights defender but who is also staunchly realistic in his assessment of the Easter 1916 Rising as being a doomed endeavor. There are certain liberties taken here, particularly with the implication that large parts of Casement’s diaries were forged, a controversy that continues to play out even in this issue of Breac. However, one must remember that this is a work of fiction, and fictions like Banville’s offer us possibilities not granted by facts: to imagine those unknown aspects of Casement’s life while allowing other aspects to remain unresolved.

For the full pdf text of Banville's screenplay, follow the link below:

Banville, Casement


[1] See Banville, “Rebel, Hero, Martyr,” review of Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Dream of the Celt, New York Review of Books (October 25, 2012),