Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Michael Braddick's "The Common Freedom of the People"

Michael Braddick is Professor of History at the University of Sheffield, and has held academic positions and visiting Fellowships in the USA, France, and Germany. He has published widely on the social, political, and economic history of British and American society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His books include The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution and God's Fury, England's Fire.

Here Braddick dreamcasts the lead for an adaptation of his new book, The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution:
This story is the perfect vehicle for James McAvoy.

Lilburne fought his political battles as a martyr rather than a soldier—his tribulations gave testimony of the righteousness of his cause. His sufferings were very real, including a savage public beating through the streets of London in 1638, sometimes appalling conditions of imprisonment and a lonely exile at the end of his life. In all he spent more than half of his adult life in prison or exile and survived three trials for his life (one under each of the governments under which he lived). He also fought at two of the major battles of the English civil war, was shot through the arm and nearly lost an eye during military drill.

He was not a big man—following the 1500 strokes with knotted cords he received in 1638 he referred to himself as a ‘stripling’—but he withstood all this, providing a standing indictment of the tyranny of all the regimes under which he lived.

His enemies blamed him for his tribulations. Consistently in trouble for what he published rather than any action he took, it was said that if he could just have kept his mouth shut he would have been fine. It is true that one reason he couldn’t keep his mouth shut was because he was almost monstrously self-involved—his treatment of his wife and family now make difficult reading. But he believed in many important things, and although the importance of John Lilburne was prominent among them, he championed freedoms we should all cherish.

The film will have to capture this suffering martyr, but also a trickster hero. Having been sent into exile 1651 on pain of death he nonetheless returned two years later. In order to kill him (which they pretty clearly wanted to do) the government needed merely to prove he was in the country—easy enough since he was in court and had sworn that he was John Lilburne. But he spent a morning challenging them to prove that he was the same man as the Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburne named in the indictment. For the only time in his career he had dropped his hard won and usually proudly-worn military title, publishing instead as plain Mr John Lilburne.

So, James McAvoy: slender, a smile constantly playing at the corner of his mouth, but able to portray the inner strength (or recklessness) necessary to speak truth to power.
Learn more about The Common Freedom of the People at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue