Fassbender to star as Celtic hero Cuchulainn


Versatile actor Michael Fassbender is taking on another challenging film role — as legendary local celtic warrior Cúchulainn. The Kerry-born star has teamed up with Northern Irish screenwriter Ronan Bennett to develop an epic about the mythical Irish hero.

Fassbender, who won an Ifta for his acting in ‘Shame’, will play the lead role in the movie, which is still in development stage. It is expected he will undergo a gruelling physical training regime to bulk up in order to portray the one-man fighting machine. The epic’s plot will loosely follow The Táin, the central story of the Ulster cycle of ancient Irish tales in which the chariot-driving warrior, aged 17, single-handedly defends Ulster against the armies of Queen Méabh of Connacht. Fassbender is set to play Cúchulainn, Conchobar’s nephew, who has semi-divine ancestry and superhuman fighting skills.

Fassbender and Bennett have raised the development finance for the project through their London-based production company Finn McCool Films.

Having shot to fame as IRA prisoner Bobby Sands in the 2008 film Hunger, the actor found global stardom more recently in Shame, which also earned him a best actor award at the Venice Film Festival.

It is not yet clear how much of the movie will be filmed locally. For anyone not familiar with the story, the plot would be something like this:

At the age of seventeen, Cú Chulainn single-handedly defends Ulster from the army of Connacht in the Táin Bó Cúailnge. Medb, queen of Connacht, has mounted the invasion to steal the stud bull Donn Cúailnge, and Cú Chulainn allows her to take Ulster by surprise because he is with a woman when he should be watching the border. The men of Ulster are disabled by a curse, so Cú Chulainn prevents Medb’s army from advancing further by invoking the right of single combat at fords. He defeats champion after champion in a stand-off lasting months.

Before one combat a beautiful young woman comes to him, claiming to be the daughter of a king, and offers him her love, but he refuses her. The woman reveals herself as the Morrígan, and in revenge for this slight she attacks him in various animal forms while he is engaged in combat against Lóch mac Mofemis. As an eel, she trips him in the ford, but he breaks her ribs. As a wolf, she stampedes cattle across the ford, but he puts out her eye with a sling-stone. Finally she appears as a heifer at the head of the stampede, but he breaks her leg with another slingstone. After Cú Chulainn finally defeats Lóch, the Morrígan appears to him as an old woman milking a cow, with the same injuries he had given her in her animal forms. She gives him three drinks of milk, and with each drink he blesses her, healing her wounds.

After one particularly arduous combat Cú Chulainn lies severely wounded, but is visited by Lug, who tells him he is his father and heals his wounds. When Cú Chulainn wakes up and sees that the boy-troop of Emain Macha have attacked the Connacht army and been slaughtered, he has his most spectacular ríastrad yet:

“The first warp-spasm seized Cúchulainn, and made him into a monstrous thing, hideous and shapeless, unheard of. His shanks and his joints, every knuckle and angle and organ from head to foot, shook like a tree in the flood or a reed in the stream. His body made a furious twist inside his skin, so that his feet and shins switched to the rear and his heels and calves switched to the front… On his head the temple-sinews stretched to the nape of his neck, each mighty, immense, measureless knob as big as the head of a month-old child… he sucked one eye so deep into his head that a wild crane couldn’t probe it onto his cheek out of the depths of his skull; the other eye fell out along his cheek. His mouth weirdly distorted: his cheek peeled back from his jaws until the gullet appeared, his lungs and his liver flapped in his mouth and throat, his lower jaw struck the upper a lion-killing blow, and fiery flakes large as a ram’s fleece reached his mouth from his throat… The hair of his head twisted like the tange of a red thornbush stuck in a gap; if a royal apple tree with all its kingly fruit were shaken above him, scarce an apple would reach the ground but each would be spiked on a bristle of his hair as it stood up on his scalp with rage.”

– Thomas Kinsella (translator), The Táin, Oxford University Press, 1969, pp. 150-153

He attacks the army and kills hundreds, building walls of corpses. Cú Chulainn carries his foster brother Ferdiad across the river

When his foster-father Fergus mac Róich, now in exile in Medb’s court, is sent to face him Cú Chulainn agrees to yield, so long as Fergus agrees to return the favour the next time they meet. Finally, he fights a grueling three-day duel with his best friend and foster-brother, Ferdiad, at a ford that was named Áth Fhir Diadh (Ardee, County Louth) after him.

The Ulstermen eventually rouse, one by one at first, and finally en masse. The final battle begins. Cú Chulainn stays on the sidelines, recuperating from his wounds, until he sees Fergus advancing. He enters the fray and confronts Fergus, who keeps his side of the bargain and yields to him, pulling his forces off the field. Connacht’s other allies panic and Medb is forced to retreat. At this inopportune moment she gets her period, and although Fergus forms a guard around her, Cú Chulainn breaks through as she is dealing with it and has her at his mercy. However he spares her because he does not think it right to kill women, and guards her retreat back to Connacht as far as Athlone.

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