BAZ BAMIGBOYE: The truth about the lost hero of the White Helmets
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.
Emma Winberg and husband James Le Mesurier (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 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’.