My Astonishing Self: Gabriel Byrne on George Bernard Shaw
Internationally-renowned Irish actor Gabriel Byrne explores the life, works and passions of George Bernard Shaw – a giant of world literature, and, like Byrne, an emigrant Irishman who had to leave to be heard: Shaw learnt the outsider’s ability to observe, needle and puncture.
“Sadly I think Shaw is under-appreciated, he’s the forgotten man of Irish literature” – Gabriel Byrne
“We probably should have given him greater recognition: we here in Ireland owe him a great deal” -President Michael D. Higgins
Pygmalion. Saint Joan. Major Barbara. Man and Superman. Heartbreak House… this documentary is the story of the great man behind great works – Gabriel Byrne believes that Shaw is the most relevant thinker, artist, and literary genius Ireland ever produced… but one of many that had to leave Ireland to find his focus, his voice, and his soul.
“Shaw said, “In Britain, I am still a foreigner, and I will die one.” It’s the dilemma that every exile faces… once you leave the place that you are from, you never belong there in quite the same way again, and the place that you go to, you never truly belong there either, and that can produce a restlessness. I think Shaw understood that.” (Gabriel Byrne)
In London, the shy teenager from Dublin became an activist, a socialist, pacifist, & feminist: Shaw started out as a campaigner, but turned his street speeches and sermons into plays, theatre and drama: Shaw used his outsider’s perspective to provoke the establishment: he was prepared to stand up against discrimination of any kind: economic, race, or gender.
Renowned actor Ralph Fiennes tells Gabriel: “Shaw honed his speaking on street corners. His consonants could cut so strongly in the space… He’s writing for people who really could speak… You get to tease and provoke with wit… the ideas are still so provocative”
With Ireland in his heart, Shaw made England his home and London his stage. His insight was ageless – his words, quotes and ideas still resonate almost seventy years after his death. Remarkably, (with the recent addition of Bob Dylan) he is one of only two people to have ever been awarded both the Nobel Prize for Literature and an Oscar…
Gabriel Byrne sees Shaw as a brave revolutionary, a literary anarchist: “My abiding sense of the man is of humanity, compassion and courage: a life spent seeking and speaking the truth, and damn the consequences”.
Byrne explores Shaw’s radical and unapologetic political thinking, from his opposition to the Great War to his wrong-headed support of Mussolini, Stalin & Hitler. Throughout his life, he had an unwavering ability to speak with neither fear nor favour, and to charm and satirise the world he lived in and the establishment that so adored him.
Shaw went against the grain: he was a life-long Socialist, Pacifist, Vegetarian… And he was a Feminist before the word or concept had arisen – he believed, more than anything, in human beings. Shaw was also a 20th Century Social Media Sensation. He loved photographs, motor cars, naturism, film cameras, self promotion, the brand.
George Bernard Shaw is a cultural touchstone: he’s on the cover of the Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’ album… he is the man who said “those who can, do… those who can’t, teach”. He is the equal of Oscar Wilde in the wild world of Irish aphorisms and literature. He not only had wit, he had wisdom.
This documentary follows the life and influences of George Bernard Shaw, with very real revelations in very real places: from the bed he was born in to the one he died in; from his English home to his Irish heart; from his handwriting as a nobody to the words that made him famous.
“My Astonishing Self” features contributions by President Michael D. Higgins, Shaw’s biographer Sir Michael Holroyd, actors Gemma Arterton & Ralph Fiennes, historians Fintan O’Toole, Rachel Holmes & Diarmaid Ferriter, author & comedian Dara O Briain, theatre directors Josie Rourke & Nicholas Hytner, and critic Michael Billington.
The documentary is directed by Gerry Hoban, who made the award-winning and acclaimed ‘A Fanatic Heart’ – Bob Geldof’s passionate portrait of the poet WB Yeats.
A passionate and timely one-hour documentary jointly commissioned by RTE and the BBC.