Director mounting film on Gallipoli hero

John Simpson and his donkey.
John Simpson and his donkey.

A ROLL call of Australia's leading actors are falling in line for a new film on the well-known story about Simpson and his donkey to coincide with the centenary of the Gallipoli landing.

The producer, Danny Mackay, is hoping to shoot the $14.5 million film early next year with a cast that includes David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Sam Neill and Don Hany.

Yet to be cast is an actor to play the young stretcher bearer who has became famous for bravely ferrying wounded soldiers by donkey in one of the enduring stories from the Gallipoli campaign that has taken on mythological status.

In the three weeks before he was killed by enemy fire, John Simpson Kirkpatrick courageously brought many injured soldiers from the frontline to the beach for evacuation.

Mackay said the filmmakers were establishing ''a solid ensemble'' of actors while finalising the last $5 million of fund-raising.

Simpson is to be directed by Peter Andrikidis, best known for The Wog Boy sequel, The Kings of Mykonos, and the TV dramas Underbelly and Bikie Wars, with a script by Sam Meikle, who has written for Home and Away, Neighbours and Wild Boys.

''It seems to be the story that symbolises the invasion,'' said Mackay. ''If Simpson had been an American, you would have had six versions by now … We just haven't had the chance to do it yet.''

Wenham will play the journalist C. E. W. Bean, with Bryan Brown as Major-General William Bridges, who commanded the 1st Australian Division at Gallipoli, Sam Neill as the field hospital's Captain Buchanan and Hany as the Turkish commander Ataturk.

While Mackay concedes there are gaps in what is known about Simpson's life, the script has drawn on research from the many books on the Gallipoli landing and the army's history unit.

Two TV projects are also planned for the conflict's centenary in 2015 - a Gallipoli mini-series for Nine and a Foxtel mini-series on the journalists who covered the landing.

This story Director mounting film on Gallipoli hero first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.