Emma Winberg wants stars ‘who are passionate about the truth’ to portray her and her late husband James Le Mesurier in a television drama being developed about the couple and their work with Syria Civil Defence, better known as the White Helmets.
‘There are so many wonderful actors out there,’ Winberg told me from her home in Amsterdam. ‘What it comes down to is, who thinks it’s right for them.’
The couple had been married for just over a year when Le Mesurier, 48, was found dead in November 2019, apparently after falling from a balcony at their home in Istanbul.
James Le Mesurier and his wife Emma Winberg (pictured together) in Istanbul
His death sent shockwaves through the international community in Turkey, where he ran the Mayday Rescue Foundation, which funded, trained and equipped the White Helmet volunteers; and also in Syria, where the group rescued wounded civilians.
Le Mesurier was known for his non-political humanitarianism. But his backing of the White Helmets (so-called because of their distinctive hard hats) earned him the enmity of the Syrian and Russian governments, which mounted aggressive disinformation campaigns that tarnished his reputation.
‘That’s why I’m doing this, more than anything else,’ Winberg said about the TV drama. ‘Even though the facts are there, the truth is hard to glean.’
Apart from politics, war and the heroism of the emergency workers, the multi-part drama will be a tale of romance.
‘There is a love story — and it was huge,’ Winberg said.
She allowed herself a laugh and added: ‘It’s something relatable. So much of the rest of it is unfathomable.
‘This is deeply personal to me and it’s important that James is accurately portrayed on an emotional level. Obviously it’s a drama, not a documentary, but it’s important that it’s true to who he was.’
Winberg has agreed to work closely with producer David Livingstone and a screenplay writer and director, once they are appointed.
Rescue teams evacuate a victim after airstrikes hit a village in the Idlib province of Syria
Members of the Syrian Civil Defence extinguish a fire on March 5, 2021, in the north of Aleppo province
Le Mesurier ‘always hated bullies’, she said; his sister told her he protected her when they were young. ‘That was central to why he was drawn to the White Helmets. He always stood up for the underdog.’
There will be humour, too. On their wedding day — July 7, 2018 — England just happened to be playing Sweden in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
The couple were both from Swedish-English backgrounds; yet their guests all kept stoically silent about delaying the reception dinner until the game was over.
The couple made a bet that if Sweden won, Le Mesurier would take her surname. ‘If England won, I would be Le Mesurier,’ she says. ‘Luckily for him, England won.’
Livingstone, who also produced the films Judy and Pride and Sky comedy Brassic, confirmed that it was early days for the drama, which has no title yet.
Separately, Winberg has begun to write a book about her life with Le Mesurier and their work with Mayday Rescue and the White Helmets, whose heroic efforts continue in Syria.
A mouse in the hat at last!
With fingers, and Lord knows what else, crossed that there won’t be a hiccup in theatre reopening on May 17, the producer Adam Spiegel told me he was feeling ‘bullish’ enough to gather a special company of actors to launch The Mousetrap back onto the boards on that very date.
Spiegel has contracted a troupe of ‘familiar names and faces’ who have appeared in classic TV dramas, popular soaps and West End hits, for a short season ‘as a symbol of its return’.
Folk such as Derek Griffiths and Susan Penhaligon, Cassidy Janson (who won an Olivier for & Juliet), Danny Mac, Charlie Clements, Paul Bradley, Louise Jameson, David Rintoul and Nicholas Bailey.
Susan Penhaligon (left) and Derek Griffiths (right) are among the cast members of The Mousetrap
Also starring in the production are Charlie Clements (left) and Danny Mac (right)
Actors David Rintoul (left) and Nicholas Bailey (right) star in the theatre production
‘It’s something fun,’ he said of his starry ensemble. Agatha Christie’s whodunnit celebrates its 70th year in town in 2022.
A long time ago, one of my ancient great-aunts asked me how’s ‘your Queen . . . and The Mousetrap?’.
She’d visited London once, in the 1960s, and her abiding memories were of seeing Her Maj at a Trooping the Colour — and watching the show.
The St Martin’s Lane Theatre production has staging that’s ideal for socially distanced performing.
There will be two companies, in case of illness, and a regular company will take over when the ‘names’ depart. Producers are taking great financial risks in reopening in such uncertain times.
Stars Louise Jameson (left) and Sarah Moss (right) are among the special company of actors to launch The Mousetrap
Also seet to appear at the reopening are Paul Bradley (left) and Joshua Griffin (right)
Alexander Wolfe (left) and Cassidy Janson (right) are among the cast members