Shortage of cash proves fatal for serial killer film ‘Monster Butler’

Malcolm McDowell and Douglas Rath (with hat on) filming Monster Butler.
Malcolm McDowell and Douglas Rath (with hat on) filming Monster Butler.
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A MULTI-MILLION-POUND movie about a Scottish serial killer has collapsed – leaving members of the production team owed hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Bectu Scotland, the media and entertainment union, is currently in negotiation with Dark House Films, a Canadian production company, over the unpaid wages due to the former crew of the ill-fated film.

The £7 million movie – titled Monster Butler – was to star Malcolm McDowell and Gary Oldman in the true story of Archibald Hall, a manservant who murdered five people in a trail of bizarre crimes across Britain in the 1970s. Among the other actors cast were Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry in The Lord Of The Rings films, and Joanne Whalley, who played Christine Keeler in Scandal.

Sets were constructed and filming was due to begin at Gosford House, a mansion in East Lothian, in early July. Oldman, who starred in The Dark Knight Rises earlier this year, was set to play a taxidermist who partners Hall on some of his crimes.

However, a few days before filming started on the seven-week shoot, a combination of scheduling problems with actors and an estimated rise in the budget meant that Dark House Films no longer had enough funds to complete the movie.

Filming was initially postponed for one week, then repeatedly pushed back again, with crew members continuing to work on the promise of payment once the gap in the budget had been filled.

However, several weeks later, the production was officially shut down. Monaghan later tweeted: “Monster Butler had finance problems n had to get shelved. It’s a common thing in this business. It may happen again.”

McDowell, who made his name in the 1970s film A Clockwork Orange, has fought to turn the life of Glasgow-born Hall into a film for a decade.

Last year he struck a deal with Dark House Films, which had previously worked with him on a film called The Unleashed, and a distribution deal was agreed with Warner Bros.

When the production arrived in Scotland, Manuel DaSilva, the co-producer of Monster Butler, said: “Apart from a few scenes in London, the vast majority of the shoot is in Scotland. We’ll be mainly using Gosford House.”

Hall, who also called himself Roy Fontaine, fashioned himself into a model butler while stealing from those he served. But in 1977 his crimes took on a deadlier twist when he worked for Lady Margaret Hudson. Hall, a bisexual, had intended to burgle her Dumfriesshire estate, Kirleton House, which was packed with antiques, but his plans were disrupted when a former lover, David Wright, turned up.

After inviting Wright to stay at the mansion, Hall found he had stolen a diamond ring from Lady Hudson. Following an argument, the butler shot him in the back of the head.

Hall then moved to London, where he worked for the former Labour minister Walter Scott-Elliott and his wife Dorothy. The pair were to be his next victims. Others included a prostitute and his own brother, Donald.

The latter was killed by Hall and an accomplice, Michael Kitto, but the duo were caught as they stopped at a hotel in North Berwick on their way to dispose of the body, which was found in the boot of the butler’s car.

Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1978, Hall died behind bars in 2002 of natural causes.

Despite the setbacks, Dark House Films insisted that all debts would be paid shortly and that the movie will be filmed in Scotland next spring. Diane DaSilva, one of the producers, said: “It has been a very long trek but we are still committed to getting everyone paid. It has been an extremely slow process. But the funds are imminent.

“We were fully funded and then there were issues due to the scheduling and then budget overtures were mixed into one chaotic postponement. We were postponing week by week, and finally we just decided to postpone until next year, and that was when we ended up with the debt. The negotiations with Bectu will come to a conclusion very soon.” An official for Bectu Scotland was unavailable for comment.

John Archer, the chief executive of Hopscotch Productions and the former head of Scottish Screen, said securing the financing of films was always difficult. “Financing a UK feature film has you reaching for metaphors like herding cats and house of cards – just as it seems you’ve got it all together, everything collapses and you have to start building it all up again.”

Siobhan Synnot, Scotland on Sunday’s film critic, added: “Small productions have to rely on a range of complex finance options to fund a film, and sometimes the cameras roll with just enough money to pay everyone to the end of the week. Monster Butler seems not to have been so lucky.”