Blood on the Crown: Malta 'Sette Guigno' Riots Immortalised in Film
Following years of production and a number of unprecedented challenges in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic, the long-awaited Blood on the Crown, also known as Just Noise, premiered in a spectacular event on 13th December at the Eden Cinema complex in St Julian’s. Featuring Hollywood actors Harvey Keitel and Malcolm McDowell, the film, which is directed by Davide Ferrario, is the result of a public-private partnership between a number of government institutions including the Malta Film Commission, Arts Council Malta, and Fondazzjoni Celebrazzjonijiet Nazzjonali (Foundation for National Celebrations), and private organisations who helped to provide funding for the project, like the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC).
On the 7th of June 1919 the British government in Malta experienced one of the biggest and most substantial series of riots since their initial occupation of the islands back in 1800. Fuelled by an ever-increasing cost of living, with food prices for staple products going up while wages remained stagnant, the Maltese people rose up against their rulers in the streets of Valletta, with the colonial government responding by sending in armed forces who opened fire on the crowds. In the aftermath four people were left dead, with dozens more injured, and more than a hundred people incarcerated for allegedly causing the violence. Nowadays this event is widely seen as the first step towards Maltese independence, which was eventually won in 1964, but while it was commemorated with a public monument in 1986, and has been celebrated as a national holiday since 1989, this momentous episode in the country’s history has never received any form of cinematic representation.
Blood on the Crown has sought to change this, with the movie marking the largest financial investment that any Maltese production has ever undertaken. Starring Hollywood heavyweights Harvey Keitel and Malcolm McDowell alongside a slew of international and local actors, this film represents a new phase of Maltese cinema, as the nation sets out to boost its own status within the international film industry, as Minister for the Arts José Herrera noted.
“This is the highest amount that the government, in public-private partnership, has ever invested in a particular film, but I am sure that this investment will be recouped both economically as well as through the prestige that it will bestow upon the Maltese film industry. Malta is famous as a country where international films, not Maltese ones, are made, but if we can produce one or two such high-quality productions which achieve a lot of interest on an international level, as this one is doing, it will give a lot more added value to the industry”
Initially scheduled to be released on the centenary of the riots before the Covid pandemic forced a change in plans, Blood on the Crown takes a thorough look at all the events surrounding the revolt, giving audiences a glimpse into the minds of both the local disgruntled populace as well as those of the British leaders and the soldiers who would go on to fire the fatal shots. Accompanied by a score from the pen of internationally-renowned composer Alexey Shor which deftly follows the dips and crests in the narrative, the film is expertly directed by Davide Ferrario, who masterfully switches between the gaze of the occupiers and the locals, taking care at all times to keep the human component of the tragedy, which so often tends to be overshadowed or glanced over in discussions of the uprising, in the spotlight. In this way, audiences are continuously forced to come to grips with the terrible price of blood that is the by-product of so many struggles for independence around the world.
“This film was an experiment”, said Albert Marshall, Executive Chair of Arts Council Malta, and one of the film’s executive producers alongside Mario Azzopardi and Konstantin Ishkhanov, among others. “We were initially thinking of making a television documentary but then we decided to produce a film about a Maltese story with Maltese financing, partly from the public and partly from the private sector. This experiemt worked and today we have in our hands a formula, a template which can be used as a platform for the creation of more good stories and more creativity to make the Maltese product more attractive for international markets, which has been one of our chief goals all along”.
Blood on the Crown is written by Jean-Pierre Magro and directed by Davide Ferrario. It is currently available for international streaming on Amazon Prime.