Faith Matters

Tyrone setting for 'Prodigal Son' film Speak of the Devil

Shows like Line of Duty and Game of Thrones aren't the only focus for Northern Ireland's burgeoning film and television industry. Religious productions are also finding ideal locations, including the Tyrone countryside

Speak of the Devil was filmed at the site of the former Ulster History Park at Glenpark Estate, outside Omagh

A slice of the Tyrone countryside has been transformed into a Viking settlement for an imaginative docudrama film retelling of the Bible story of the Prodigal Son.

Global Catholic TV network EWTN is behind the production, called Speak of the Devil, which is directed by Newcastle, Co Down filmmaker Campbell Miller.

The film is currently in production at Glenpark Estate - site of the former Ulster History Park - outside Omagh, at the foot of Gortin Glens Forest Park.

Speak of the Devil is due to air later this year. Mr Miller said the Viking re-enactment of the Prodigal Son parable was a story of "the age-old battle between good and evil".

Director Campbell Miller, pictured right, has won acclaim for his EWTN docudramas

"The production is coming along nicely, with actors and crew having settled in well," he said.

"Our film prop-making team, costume and make-up artists are doing a fantastic job.

"Many of the Viking props had to be made from scratch, as access to costumes and dresses from the Viking period was quite limited.

"But the Viking historians and experts involved in the production have been simply outstanding."

A church set used in filming the EWTN production Speak of the Devil. The docudrama is scheduled to be broadcast later this year

These include Audhild Zimmer from Valhallas Silver in Castlewellan, Co Down and Lylehill Film Studios in Ballyclare, Co Antrim, as well as Kaiser Krafts.

"They have really brought this film to life, with the design of set dressings and using decorative features like swords and shields, armour, animal skins and furs, and jewellery appropriate to the period," said Mr Miller.

Donaghmore actor Brian McMahon, pictured centre during a sword fight scene, says filming in Gortin Glens has been a "home from home"

Donaghmore actor Brian McMahon, who plays a leading role in the production, is from a family of performers; his mother Ethna was one of the Loughran Sisters traditional music group.

He said working on the shoot "in the open air here in the hills of Gortin Glens" has felt like a "home from home".

"Playing the lead role in this Viking re-enactment has been a real buzz for me," he said.

"Filming both night and day has been hard work but very rewarding."

Northern Ireland has become an in-demand location for filmmakers - with even the Irish News building featuring in productions - but this means that finding crew can be difficult.

EWTN's Aidan Gallagher, pictured centre, on set. Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic has made film production more difficult, he says

Around 40 are involved in Speak of the Devil. Aidan Gallagher from EWTN, which is producing the film, said the Viking setting had also posed its own challenges.

"The north of Ireland continues to be in much demand as a location for filmmakers with Netflix, Disney and Hulu all creating high quality productions locally," he explained.

"This has put a premium on attracting and retaining cast and crew. Brexit, too, has made things difficult with increased shipment costs, and has restricted access to costumes and film props.

"And of course the pandemic has also complicated things greatly.

"However, with our great crew and talent and this wonderful Gortin Glens location, we've come out the right side of it - we got through it."

A church scene from Speak of the Devil, which is a retelling of the parable of the Prodigal Son

Previous collaborations between EWTN and Mr Miller have also featured in the Faith matters pages.

Bravery Under Fire told the extraordinary story of Irish Jesuit Fr Willie Doyle who died as a British army chaplain in the First World War.

He repeatedly risked his own life to save others - including enemy German soldiers - during some of the war's bloodiest battles and was killed while ministering to the fallen at Passchendaele in Belgium in 1917.

It was followed by Hope, a docudrama which explored the Marian apparitions at Knock, Co Mayo.

Both films were screened at the Vatican, with Mr Campbell presenting Pope Francis with copies.

EWTN is the largest religious media network in the world, with 11 global TV channels. It is available in more than 145 countries - meaning its films set in Ireland reach an audience of more than 350 million.

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