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Derek Jacobi, StringCaesar

"I know you’re meant to work to target audiences, but I’ve never done what you’re supposed to do. I don’t think I’m capable of it…"

That’s director Paul Schoolman explaining the ambitious, unique and really quite striking StringCaesar. Shot in Cardiff, Canada and South Africa’s prisons, it’s a film showing Julius Caesar’s rise to power, spilling blood and slitting throats – all behind bars.

Starring Derek Jacobi alongside hundreds of inmates, StringCaesar had its UK premiere at the Raindance Film Festival this week. I interviewed Sir Derek after the film. It went something like this:

Thank you.

[Derek smiles]

That happened while he held open the door for me in the toilet.

My brief encounter with Sir Derek over, I then spoke to Schoolman about the production. He explained how many years he’d been working on the film – since 1984. Or, as he accurately put it, “before you were born”. Stopping every few minutes to talk to a friend, colleague or granddaughter, he cuts an enthusiastic figure, satisfied that his project is now complete.

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String Caesar - Raindance

Director: Paul Schoolman
Cast: Derek Jacobi

“As I sit in my cell barred and bolted… my soul finds release like a nomad… and wanders for me in the night.”

The words are written by Tony, an inmate at Dartmoor Prison, but they could easily belong to Julius Caesar. Long before he came to power, young Jules was dismissed as a loser, a waste of space, a homosexual. He grew up in a time of conflict and bloodshed. Dictators. Thugs. War. They’re the hallmarks of 80s BC Rome, but they could easily belong to modern day Dartmoor. Or Cardiff. Or Drumheller Pentientiary in Alberta. Or Pollsmoor Prison in South Africa, where Mandela was once held.

String theory says there are many alternate realities. StringCaesar, then, sees two of them collide behind bars around the world. Citizens wear orange jumpsuits, while rulers spark riots in the corridors and order murder in the yards.

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