‘The Professor and the Madman’ Trailer: Mel Gibson & Sean Penn Craft the Oxford English Dictionary

Despite calls for the contrary by the film’s creators, the trailer has been released for The Professor and the Madman, an upcoming drama starring Oscar winners Mel Gibson and Sean Penn.

The film is based on the true story of Professor James Murray (Gibson), who embarked on the ambitious project of creating the most comprehensive dictionary ever compiled. They decided to “crowd source” the work and gather definitions from people from around the wold. Murray went on to discover that one man (Penn) had submitted over ten thousand words; a man who happened to be a convicted murderer locked up in an insane asylum.

It’s a fascinating story being brought to life by two very strong actors, and the decent trailer showcases some good performances and a fine cast. That being said, this project has had quite the bumpy path to the screen.

2017 saw producer Gibson and his Icon Productions sue the film’s production company, Voltage Pictures, and try to block the release of the film. Gibson and director Farhad Safinia (co-writer of Gibson’s Apocalypto) apparently walked away from the film after disagreements with Voltage on the location: Gibson and Safinia wanted filming in Oxford in England, while Voltage wanted Trinity College in Dublin. The case also had Voltage being accused of not allowing Safinia to finish his version of the film and not greenlighting addition shooting days. Voltage maintained that the project had gone over budget and had fallen behind schedule. Gibson and Icon lost the case, and the film’s final cut went Vertical’s way. The director’s credit now reads “P.B. Shemran.”

We’ll see what the result is when the film is finally released; no release date has been announced as yet. The Professor and the Madman also stars Natalie Dormer, Jennifer Ehle, Ioan Gruffudd, Jeremy Irvine and Steve Coogan.

Transmission Films’ official synopsis for The Professor and the Madman:

Based on the worldwide best-selling novel by Simon Winchester, THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN is an extraordinary true tale of madness, genius, and obsession about two remarkable men who created history with the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary.


The compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857 and was one of the most ambitious, and revolutionary projects ever undertaken. Professor James Murray (Mel Gibson) took on the challenge of creating the most comprehensive dictionary ever compiled, but knew that it would take him and his team over a century to compile all known definitions. However, by “crowd sourcing” the work, that is, by enlisting definitions from people all over the world, the dictionary could be compiled in mere decades.


As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W.C. Minor (Sean Penn), had submitted more than ten thousand words. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was a convicted murderer and being held at an asylum for the criminally insane.


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Guillermo, Founder and Manager of Screen Realm, lives and breathes all things screen and pop culture. He has over eight years' experience in the media landscape in a career that has encompassed television, radio, and the online space. When he's not working hard on Screen Realm, you can find him at a local Sydney cinema or catching up on his ever-growing list of must-watch TV shows. He's also started a video podcast with his wife, Cassandra. Find the LOUD OBSERVERS right HERE.