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Nun on the run story too good to turn down, says Northern Ireland director


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Maureen McKeown with daughter Paula.

Maureen McKeown with daughter Paula.

Maureen McKeown with daughter Paula.

The Northern Irish director of an upcoming film about a young Irish nun on the run from her Australian convent has said the true story was too powerful and dramatic to pass up.

Colin McIvor, who directed the war time movie Zoo, has teamed up with Australian and American producers to bring The Extraordinary Case of Sister Liguori to the big screen after becoming 'hooked' on the novel.

Written by Co Down woman Maureen McKeown, the book which the film is based on, tells the story of her great aunt, Brigid Partridge, a young nun from Kildare who fled her convent in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, in 1920. Barefoot and in her nightgown, Brigid found refuge in the home of local Protestants, who refused to disclose her whereabouts to the Catholic authorities.

Hunted throughout Australia and accused of being insane by the bishop, Brigid was arrested and brought before the Lunacy Court, where she was found to be sane and released. Supported by the Loyal Orange Lodge of NSW, she sued the bishop, against the backdrop of growing sectarian tensions and an unprecedented religious storm in Australia.

Maureen stumbled upon her great aunt's story by accident while researching her family tree and decided to write a novel based on the unholy war. The book was published in 2017 and a mutual friend suggested Colin read it.

With the script drafted and producers and funding in place, filming is due to take place next year, in Australia and Ireland. Casting will be announced at a later date, but it is understood it will attract well-known names.

Speaking to Sunday Life, Colin said he'd always steered away from stories with a Troubles-related or sectarian theme, but that Brigid's story was too incredible to be ignored.

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Director Colin McIvor, centre, Brian O'Driscoll and wife Amy Hubberman. Pic by Peter Morrison

Director Colin McIvor, centre, Brian O'Driscoll and wife Amy Hubberman. Pic by Peter Morrison

Director Colin McIvor, centre, Brian O'Driscoll and wife Amy Hubberman. Pic by Peter Morrison

"The Troubles never appealed to me as a film-maker. In fact, I always looked for stories that were far removed from anything like that," Colin said.

"But this is a story of our time; a young woman taking on the system, standing up to a powerful bishop and the Catholic Church.

"It was a huge court case at the time as all the salacious details of convent life in the 1920s were exposed. I read the book and three quarters of the way through, I was hooked. It has all the ingredients of a great drama; a court case, a story that ends up in Parliament and hidden sectarianism.

"It was far too powerful not to get involved."

Colin (left), whose movie Zoo starred Penelope Wilton, Art Parkinson, Toby Jones and Ian McElhinney, adapted the script for the new film, keeping Maureen informed at every stage. He then teamed up with American producers Tribune Pictures, who are currently shooting Across the River and Into the Trees, starring Liev Schreiber, and Australian co-producers and financiers McMahon International. Colin is also writing and directing a new Sony LA drama, Hands That Built America, a story of Irish brothers in 1800s America, which is in development. He hopes to announce cast details for Brigid's story following the Berlin Film Festival early next year.

"Brigid's age spans from 17 to 30, even later, and this will be a really strong role for a young actress," he said.

"There's also a great male role in the bishop. I can't reveal cast at the moment but I'm hoping to get well-known names attached to the film.

"Most of the filming will be done in Australia but there will be scenes shot in Ireland as well."

For Downpatrick mum-of-five Maureen, who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2015, while working on the novel, The Extraordinary Case of Sister Liguori was a labour of love that she hopes serves as her great aunt's legacy.

Research took her to the convent in Kildare that Brigid had left at 17, where she was welcomed and helped by the nuns as she pieced the story together. She then travelled to Wagga Wagga, where, again, she was given new material for her book by the sisters she met there.

"Brigid's story is one hundred years old this year so it's fitting that Colin is going to bring it to the big screen," said Maureen.

"I found it through a random internet search and the more I read, the more I was on a mission.

"I knew I had to write it but to be honest, I always saw it as a film. It's such a unique story that took me four or five years to write and I'm so proud that Colin has taken it on and is going to make it into a movie."

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