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murder mystery Filmmaker Jim Sheridan admits 'in many ways Ian Bailey has been punished' for unsolved murder

Sheridan turns his gaze on the 25-year-old unsolved murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Murder at the Cottage: The Search for Justice for Sophie

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Jim Sheridan

Jim Sheridan

Jim Sheridan

It is one of the more infamous crimes to have taken place on Irish shores and now award-winning filmmaker Jim Sheridan is seeking answers to the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

For the mastermind behind hit films such as In the Name of the Father and My Left Foot, the brutal death of the French television producer in Cork some 25 years ago and the failure to bring her killer to justice was a story that needed to be re-examined.

And the six-time Oscar-nominated director has done just that for Sky Crime in the compelling five-part documentary entitled Murder at the Cottage: The Search for Justice for Sophie.

The 72-year-old Dubliner may have built his reputation on his work behind the camera but this time, he is in front of the lens as he travels to the scene of the murder to pick through the facts of the case with a fresh set of eyes.

This is a real-life crime drama presented in the format of a high-budget movie and the visionary behind the project treated the story with the respect that it deserves.

“The idea behind the film is an investigation of the crime, not a reconstruction,” Sheridan told the Sunday World in an exclusive interview.

“I wanted the viewer to walk in the killer’s feet, walk in the victim’s shoes and you get a deep feeling around what was going on.

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Jim Sheridan at Kealfadda Bridge, near the scene of the crime

Jim Sheridan at Kealfadda Bridge, near the scene of the crime

Jim Sheridan at Kealfadda Bridge, near the scene of the crime

“I’d say the viewer gets an even deeper view than the police because we are speaking to the real people who were part of the story.

“The police are full of statistics, of technical ways to solve a crime, but this film is raw.”

Sophie, the wife of a top French film producer, was at her holiday home near Schull, Co Cork when on the night of December 23, 1996, she was savagely beaten to death aged just 39, with her body found near to the house.

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Sophie Toscan du Plantier

Sophie Toscan du Plantier

Sophie Toscan du Plantier

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A flawed Garda operation followed, more than 24 hours passed before the state pathologist conducted his examination, making the exact time of death difficult to determine.

Meanwhile, Ian Bailey was treated by gardaí as lead suspect but he was never charged with the murder of Sophie, instead winning battles to avoid extradition to France.

Bailey protests his innocence to this day, but he was found guilty in a 2019 French court case held in his absence.

Now the story of that fateful night is examined in a series that will recount the horror story to a new generation.

Sheridan explains: “My conclusion is that in many ways Ian Bailey has been punished for this crime. He has been marked down as a killer for 25 years and found guilty in a French courtroom, so he has suffered, even if he never faced a jury in a criminal case.”

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Ian Bailey

Ian Bailey

Ian Bailey

Meanwhile, our nation’s fascination with high-profile crimes remains as strong as ever and Sheridan suggests the Sunday World is part of the reason for the enduring fascination.

“You don’t see English newspapers covering criminals like we do, but crime and criminality is a part of our culture,” he continues.

“Look at Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey In the Jar. It’s a song about a highwayman who robs someone and we are on the side of the criminal in that story. That’s just our culture.”

Growing up in Dublin’s inner-city, as Sheridan brushed shoulders with some of the more notorious crime lords.

“This criminal world has been around me all my life as I grew up around Sheriff Street in Dublin,” he says. “Gerry Hutch, or ‘The Monk’ as he has been christened, grew up on the street I grew up on, so I knew him, even though he was a bit younger than me.

“Do we glorify criminals? Maybe we do, but the reality is we are all interested in them and the Sunday World has been incredible at reporting on them down the years.

“Nicola Tallant is great at what she does and we do have a fascination with crime and criminals in Ireland. That will never change.”

Sheridan’s rise as one of Ireland’s greatest filmmakers ensured his legacy long ago and he admits to tuning into his greatest hits when they air on TV.

“My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father come on Irish TV all the time and I will look at them when they are on,” he reveals.

“Overall I’m very proud of them, but there are bits I would like to change a little.

“When I did In The Name of the Father, the Evening Standard newspaper in London called me a leprechaun in their review, but I am happy to ignore that kind of snipe if it is in the service of something good and something people remember for the right reasons.

“Those two films are a big part of my life and they mean a lot to people. They made an impact and that’s always a good thing.”

All episodes of Murder at the Cottage: The Search for Justice for Sophie are available on Sky Crime and NOW

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