Marsh won an Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2009 with “Man on Wire,” and also directed the Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything,” which earned five nominations at the 2015 Oscars, including best picture, and a best actor win for Eddie Redmayne.
Marsh will now be directing his gaze on the life of Beckett, the ground-breaking Irish writer. Titled after Beckett’s famous ethos on life “Dance first, think later,” the film is a sweeping account of the life of this icon of 20th-century literature.
Beckett lived a life of many parts: Parisian bon vivant, World War II Resistance fighter, Nobel Prize-winning playwright, philandering husband and recluse. But despite all the adulation that came his way he was a man acutely aware of his own failings. In 1969, having been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, an embarrassed Beckett simply wanted to be rid of it. This film revolves around this turning point, the internal debate raging within Beckett as to which of the people in his life most deserve to be the beneficiaries of his shame.
Golden-Globe winning Irish actor Byrne, whose previous credits include “Death of a Ladies’ Man,” “Hereditary,” “Louder Than Bombs,” “The Usual Suspects” and “Miller’s Crossing,” will play the titular role and other key roles are being cast. “Dance First” has been written by BAFTA-winning screenwriter Neil Forsyth (“Guilt,” “Eric, Ernie & Me”).
Marsh said: “ ‘Dance First’ is an imaginative, playful and often poignant account of the life of Samuel Beckett. The film has a bold structure that sees Beckett discussing his life’s mistakes with another version of himself, an antagonistic alter ego. But you don’t need to be a student of Beckett to enjoy this film – the script is both witty and dramatic, focusing on the key relationships in his life and including some startling episodes such as his active involvement in the French Resistance and his near-fatal stabbing by a pimp in Paris. We have Gabriel Byrne attached to play both the mature Beckett and his alter-ego and we expect to build a powerful ensemble cast around him.”
“Dance First” was developed with Sky Arts in the U.K. and produced by 2LE Media’s Michael Livingstone and Tom Thostrup, alongside Viktória Petrányi of Hungary’s Proton Cinema (“Pieces of a Woman,” “Midsommar”) and Belgium’s Umedia (“The Artist,” “Yves Saint Laurent”) as co-producers, with Film Constellation’s Fabien Westerhoff serving as executive producer.
Westerhoff said: “With its sharp and ironic look at the absurdity of human nature, ‘Dance First’ couldn’t be more contemporary in a post pandemic world. Laced with life affirming humor, James Marsh’s rendition of Beckett’s radical impact on modern culture will resonate with audiences throughout the world.”