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Explained: Who is Don McCullin, whose biopic Angelina Jolie will be directing?

The film will be centered around Don McCullin's coverage of international conflicts. The film also highlights Angelina Jolie's developing career as an anti-war filmmaker.

Written by Surbhi Gupta , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 25, 2020 11:46:17 am
Don McCullin, Don McCullin biopic, Don McCullin Angelina Jolie, Who is Don McCullin, Angelina Jolie, Indian ExpressBritish photojournalist Don McCullin. (Facebook/@SirDonMcCullin)

Actor-filmmaker Angelina Jolie is set to direct a biopic of British photojournalist Don McCullin, who is well known for his work documenting war and urban strife. Actor Tom Hardy will portray the role. McCullin will be actively involved in its production as the executive producer.

To be titled Unreasonable Behavior after McCullin’s autobiography, the film will be centered around his coverage of international conflicts. The film also highlights Jolie’s developing career as an anti-war filmmaker.

Who is Don McCullin?

Sir Don McCullin was born in 1935 in London’s Finsbury Park, which was a poor and rough area at the time. After leaving school at 15, he signed up for National Service in the Royal Air Force as a photographic assistant, and his first posting was during the Suez Canal crisis in 1956. McCullin’s most notable work dates back to the 1960s and goes through the 1980s.

The first photograph that first got him recognition was of a local London gang posing in front of a bombed-out building, in 1958. Titled ‘The Guvnors in their Sunday Suits’, it was published in The Observer.

Covering war

His assignment in Berlin to photograph the building of the Wall secured his contract with The Observer in 1961. Soon his commissions took him around the world, starting with the Cyprus War in 1964, which began his career as a war photographer. He then moved to The Sunday Times Magazine, where his assignments included covering Biafra, the Belgian Congo, the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’, Bangladesh and the Lebanese civil wars. His photographs from the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia are among the most famous and well-recognised.

His work projecting the realities of war is said to have contributed substantially to the growth of anti-war sentiments among the public.

Threats to his life

McCullin has taken huge risks over the course of his career in order to take his photographs. He was threatened at knifepoint at a checkpoint in Beirut for having a Falangist press pass. He was blinded by CS gas during a riot in Derry, and was wounded by fragments of a mortar shell in Cambodia.

He has shared that he was the most frightened when arrested by Idi Amin’s men in Uganda and taken to a prison where they were murdering hundreds. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Covering The Beatles

In addition to covering conflict, McCullin is also known for photographing The Beatles. He was invited to photograph them during the height of their popularity, when they were in the midst of recording ‘The White Album’. The photo sessions that were conducted at several locations in London later came to be known as ‘The Mad Day Out’. They contain many well known images of the band, including the gatefold sleeve picture from the Red and Blue compilations, where the Beatles mingled with the crowd seen through railings.

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Don McCullin, Don McCullin biopic, Don McCullin Angelina Jolie, Who is Don McCullin, Angelina Jolie, Indian Express Don at the Howrah Bridge, Kolkata. (Photo courtesy: Soham Gupta via Facebook @SirDonMcCullin)

Later work

After his stint at The Sunday Times, McCullin continued to travel internationally, photographing and printing new works from several countries, including India, Syria and Africa, where he documented the AIDS crisis. He explored the ruins in the southern fringes of the Roman Empire, a project that spanned over a number of years, and was documented in the book Southern Frontiers: A Journey Across the Roman Empire (2010). His newer images include the British landscape, notably of Somerset, where he now lives.

Awards and recognition

In 1993, McCullin became the first photojournalist to be made a Commander of the British Empire, and was recently awarded knighthood in the 2017 New Years Honours list. He has been given numerous awards over the years, including two premier awards from the World Press Photo and the 2006 Cornell Capa Award by the International Centre for Photography in New York for his lifetime contribution to photography. Last year, he was presented with a major solo retrospective of his work at Tate Britain, which found immense success.

Angelina Jolie’s directorial journey

Over the years, since Jolie has turned to directing, her work has often concentrated on the cruelty and tragedies of war. Her debut film as a director — In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011) — was a tragic romance set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War.

Unbroken (2014), which was also a biopic, was about a track star-turned-war hero Louis Zamperini, who spent 27 days at sea on a raft and was then taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese during World War II.

First They Killed My Father (2017) focused on the true story of a girl trained as a child soldier during the Cambodian civil war.

Now, Jolie will take the director’s chair for the sixth time for Unreasonable Behavior.

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