There Ain’t No Doubt about it: Hollywood hellraiser Russell Crowe is to play Jimmy Nail in a controversial big screen version of the mythical north country actor’s life, writes Nigel Eels.
And the news has shocked traditionalists, who have accused director Ridley Scott of playing fast and loose with a much-loved slice of English folklore.
According to legend, Jimmy Nail was a heroic working class man from Newcastle forced into showbiz after being made redundant by the evil Margaret Thatcher.
Despite being hunted down by the critics, who attempted to portray him as utterly risible, he nevertheless achieved astonishing success as both an actor and singer before abruptly vanishing off the face of the earth.
In Scott’s $100 million blockbuster, Jimmy Nail, folklore and legend have been stripped away in favour of gritty historical realism.
Scott told The News Grind: “Every child has grown up with the legend of the ordinary bloke from the provinces who challenges the system and unfathomably ends up with his own TV detective series and the Number One song in the pop charts. Why? Because it’s a bloody good story.
“But at the same time everyone knows it’s a fairytale, that in a rational society Spender and Crocodile Shoes would never have been commissioned, and that in all likelihood a person called ‘Jimmy Nail’ never existed in England in the late 20th century.
“We want to go back to the roots of the myth, to identify just how the Nail legend grew to become such a part of our heritage. If that upsets the applecart, then so be it.”
Previous TV and movie versions of Jimmy Nail’s life have starred Ralph Feinnes, Jeremy Irons and Daniel Craig in the lead role, while a recent Pixar animation featured the singing voice of Bryn Terfel.
As well as Russell Crowe, the forthcoming film will star Danny DeVito and Gary Oldman as Nail’s so-called “Merry Geordie Thespians”, Tim Healy and Kevin Whately, while comedienne Jenny Eclaire will play Denise Welch.
Jimmy Nail enthusiasts yesterday reacted with dismay at the news.
“It seems to be all the rage to put a cynical modern twist on things,” said Frank Horsley, secretary of The Jimmy Nail Heritage Society. “But I am sure that when it comes to the crunch the public will vote with their feet.”
A spokesman for the Northumbria Tourist Board said: “In 2003 Tyneside was renamed ‘Jimmy Nail Country’ and we have no plans to change it.”