Thomas Reid is a very determined farmer. When the giant Intel corporation decide they want to purchase his land in Maynooth, County Kildare, to build a new factory, he refuses to sell – even when the price mooted rises to €10 million. So when a compulsory purchase order is served on him, he takes the case to the High Court and engages in a seemingly hopeless battle against Intel and Ireland’s Industrial Development Authority.
“What attracted me so much to the project was that I couldn't believe how much under the radar [his case] had flown,” comments director Feargal Ward. “There we were, a European nation state, evicting a man from his house and his land for the benefit of a private corporation. It was like wow, is this happening?”
The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is told through radio reports and re-enactments (in Reid’s farmyard and fields) of court testimony, as well as via comment from the eponymous hero himself. Much of the time we see him tending his livestock, looking over his wall at suspicious activity, or sitting in his living room. He is generally alone, without friends or family; his main companions being the director or local DJ Pat, who plays his requests on the radio.
But Reid is also very odd. He is an avowed fan of the epic soap opera series Dallas (he can name all the characters from Digger Barnes to Pam Ewing) and is a manic hoarder of newspapers, utility bills and video tapes. He has no friends and, according to director Ward, has only ever ventured from Maynooth once, when he went on a day trip to nearby Bettystown as a child.
What’s more, it took Ward a year and a half to gain access to Reid’s house after initially deciding on the project. Even then, the director felt he was desperately holding onto a tenuous thread, unsure as to whether his protagonist would fully engage. “Every single time I met him, I nearly had to start [from scratch] to gain his trust again. I was living in Berlin, but even if I wasn’t shooting with him or he wasn't feeling well, I had to make it back to see him. I couldn’t let it go for more than two weeks – if I let it go beyond this, it could take me a month to get his trust back.”
“But I can totally empathise with this mistrust and borderline paranoia,” Wards adds. “If people are whispering and telling you that a big huge corporation is coming for your land, and it turns out to be true, and you are on your own, you are going to be mistrustful of anything that is happening. And I was part of that.”