When Channel 4 broadcasts Marc Munden's The Mark Of Cain, British audiences are likely to be startled by the film's frank depiction of UK soldiers humiliating and bullying Iraqi prisoners. Audiences may also be surprised by the way British senior officers are shown trying to avoid responsibility for events that took place on their watch.
That kind of authenticity, however unflattering, was important to Munden. 'In some ways you have more responsibility with a project like this. It is always important for me to find projects not only that I love but that I can bring a vision to.'
His backers at Channel 4 were supportive of that vision. 'The executives in charge of this, Liza Marshall and Tessa Ross, are just as serious about their work. They wanted to see this film work and they weren't worried about the controversy,' says Munden. The project is one of a number of Channel 4-backed films (including The Road To Guantanamo) that play on UK TV but are shown theatrically internationally.
The script by Tony Marchant is fictional but rooted in fact. It is about two young British soldiers in Iraq who become involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Back home, the soldiers are reviled by the press and abandoned by their officers and colleagues.
Marchant's inspiration came from a real-life incident in 2003 (preceding the Abu Ghraib scandal) when a soldier handed in a roll of film to be developed and the photography shop assistants passed the images on to the police.
Munden was determined to make the film even-handed. He did not shy away from showing the brutality of the soldiers. 'I was adamant that you needed to know what the horrific consequences of this abuse was. On the other hand, it was essential you went on a journey with those two lads.'
The film was shot at breakneck speed in only five weeks, with Basra recreated in Tunisia. Relative newcomers like Matthew McNulty and Gerard Kearns appear alongside more established names such as Leo Gregory.
His only previous theatrical feature was the somewhat disappointing Miranda, but Munden has long been an admired director for TV for his work on projects including the 1998 'punk' version of Vanity Fair and 2006 drama Shiny, Shiny Bright New Hole In My Heart. Munden and Marchant first worked together on the BBC's Chaucer adaptation The Knight's Tale. 'I love his work,' Munden says of the maverick writer.
The Mark Of Cain (made by Red Productions and sold internationally by London-based Independent) premiered earlier this year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it won the Movies That Matter Award. Buyers clamoured to acquire it during the European Film Market in Berlin.
Munden has various feature projects in the pipeline, among them Cheap Lives, based on the book by Anthony Sher, and Village Bride, about British Muslim women forced into arranged marriages. He is working on the screenplay with Joe Fisher and Lisa Marie Russo will produce.