Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose director unpacks incredible true story
Adam Sigal speaks exclusively to RadioTimes.com about the stranger than fiction tale at the centre of his new film.
On the face of it, you'd probably think a film telling the story of a talking mongoose couldn't possibly be based on true events.
But Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose – the new film on Prime Video starring Simon Pegg – actually does have its roots in a real story, and one that became quite the tabloid sensation back in the 1930s.
The story in question is that of the Irving family, who lived on a farm on the Isle of Man and insisted that their mongoose named Gef was able to fully communicate in English.
Unsurprisingly, their claims are now generally regarded as a hoax – with the Irvings having been well-practiced in the art of ventriloquism – but at the time the case attracted the interest of many parapsychologists, including the titular Nandor Fodor.
Ahead of release, RadioTimes.com spoke exclusively to the film's writer and director Adam Sigal about adapting the true story – read on for everything you need to know.
Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose true story
Sigal first heard of Gef's story many years before he started working on the project – after coming across it in "the most random way possible".
"I was listening to a radio show and they did this segment where they would celebrate the birthday of somebody who was dead," he explained.
"And they said today's the birthday of Doctor Nandor Fodor, the father of modern parapsychology – whose most famous case involves the talking mongoose of the Isle of Man."
Naturally, that piece of information piqued Sigal's curiosity, and as he started to research the case, he began to feel that there was huge potential for a "kind of Wes Anderson-y" type of film.
But it wasn't until years later, when "an odd, peripheral religious thing happened with a friend", that he decided it was time to start writing a screenplay.
"Once those two things were married, I was like, 'Okay, now I'm ready,'" he explained. "Because I never wanted to do just kind of a straight biopic, it never interested me. But when it had subtext, I was like, 'Okay, now I want to do this.'"
While the film version of the story is slightly fictionalised, sections of the screenplay are taken directly from Fodor's book Between Two Worlds, which was first published in 1964.
"There's an entire chapter devoted to Gef, and there's a section in the film towards the beginning, where Dr Price (Christopher Lloyd) is reading from his journal, and that is straight up from the real journal.
"That's why that section is odd, and why it's a little slow, because it's literally from the page. And I cut it down a lot, but there's a lot of resources taken directly from the actual incidents and investigations, which is great."
It was also important for Sigal to strike the right tone for the film, and his method for this was to essentially adopt the same approach as Fodor had taken himself when he was looking into the Irvings' story.
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"I wanted it to seem like I was almost afraid, in some ways, of the ghost of the Irvings coming to accuse me of slander or libel," he said.
"What was so funny to me was reading the accounts from Nandor and Dr Price and everything, and they never once say this is bulls**t. They don't. But the way that they approach it is so sarcastic and so tongue-in-cheek.
"And basically, they're just like, 'Look, here's all the information, you draw your own conclusion.'
"The daughter was a ventriloquist, nobody ever saw this creature, the photographs of it looked like a fur hat sitting on a fence, the first samples that they sent in were from a dog.
"But hey, who knows? So that was kind of the tone I wanted to achieve in the film, too."
While there are several real historical figures featured in the film, including the famous illusionist Harry Houdini (Edmund Kingsley), some characters are not based on real people.
The fictional characters include Fodor's long-term assistant Anne (Minnie Driver) and the Irving family's skeptical employee Errol (Gary Beadle) – and Sigal explained that there were a couple of reasons for their inclusion.
"I created them not just from a perspective of wanting to have some diversity in the film, but also just like... those are crucial characters for the theme that I wanted to tell," he said.
"Because I try to prioritise theme and subtext over a narrative in a lot of ways."
Meanwhile, he also explained that there were some details about the story that he didn't include in the film for budget-related reasons, including one incident that led to a parliamentary punch-up.
"It's been a while, so I don't remember the exact specifics, but there was something where some aspect of libel came about involving this case," he said.
"And it went all the way to Parliament in England, and apparently, it led to a fistfight!
"It was one of the few actual physical altercations in Parliament, over the Gef story. The budget of the film would have increased drastically to include it, but it was so funny to me to think that Gef managed to influence Parliament and cause people to fistfight."
Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Wednesday 8th November 2023. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.
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