Mel Gibson And Sean Penn Trailer Dramatizes The Origin Story Of ‘The Oxford Dictionary’

'The Professor and the Madman' is a biopic about the two men who compiled the famous dictionary.

Actor Mel Gibson arrives at the UK Premiere of 'Daddy's Home 2' at Vue West End on November 16, 2017 in London, England.
John Phillips / Getty Images

'The Professor and the Madman' is a biopic about the two men who compiled the famous dictionary.

Academy Award winners Sean Penn and Mel Gibson star in the latest biographic film about the origins of The Oxford Dictionary in The Professor and the Madman. The film released the first trailer recently on the official YouTube page for Transmission Films, one of the production houses for the film. The film is based on a book published in 1998 titled The Surgeon of Crowthorne.

Movies based on biographical stories of real-life people seem to resonate with Hollywood. The 2019 Academy Awards saw many of its nominated films fall into the biopic category — such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice, Green Book, BlackKklansman, and many more. So it may come as little surprise that the true story about the origins of The Oxford Dictionary is being immortalized in film in this new true story adaptation.

The film adapts the real-life story about the attempts to compile an authoritative book which includes every word in the English language — along with a comprehensive definition, usage, and history of the word. The development of the book was overseen by Professor James Murray (Mel Gibson), who enlisted the help of several volunteers — and others less directly involved — in order to have them contribute words to the book. This process can be best described as the earliest form of crowdsourcing.

(L-R) Mel Gibson, Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell and John Lithgow attend the UK Premiere of 'Daddy's Home 2' at Vue West End on November 16, 2017 in London, England.
(L-R) Mel Gibson, Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, and John Lithgow attend the U.K. Premiere of ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ at Vue West End on November 16, 2017, in London, England. Jeff Spicer / Getty Images

During this crowdsourcing, one of the largest contributors to the project was a former doctor, William Chester Minor (Sean Penn), who was incarcerated in a mental asylum for the criminally insane after having been convicted of murder. Naturally, the committee for the dictionary project didn’t want to acknowledge the contributions of a murderer, whereas Murray admired — and even developed a friendship with — Minor. They worked tirelessly towards their mutual goal.

The Professor and the Madman isn’t without controversy of its own, however, with Gibson having acquired the rights to the book immediately after its huge success. Stuck in development for the past 20 years, the project changed many directors, with Gibson at first set to direct. However, the final director ended up being Farhad Safinia, Gibson’s co-writer for Apocalypto.

As detailed in a comprehensive Variety report, differences over creative control and shooting locations in early 2017 saw Gibson and Safinia walk out of the project, later suing Voltage Pictures to block the release of the film. Gibson ultimately lost the decision in court, however, and will presumably not be marketing the film’s release. Since then, the final directorial credit for the film in the trailer is given to P. B. Sherman, while Safina is still listed as the director at the film’s official IMDb page.

While the trailer for The Professor and the Madman effectively conveys the drama behind this story, its quiet release may be a sign of the studio wishing to release the project in any way.

No release date has been set for The Professor and the Madman.