A FATHER and son movie-making team from Southend are set to launch an ambitious film project, based on a stirring episode in World War 2.

Sebastian and Alex Abineri, will unveil plans for Operation Pegasus at the 2018 Southend Film Festival. Audiences will get a taster of the proposed mini-series in the form of a trailer.

“At the same time, we will be inviting investment in Operation Pegasus, on a crowd-funding basis,” Alex said.

The 1944 Pegasus operation involved the rescue of hundreds of British soldiers, trapped behind enemy lines in Holland, after the disastrous failure of the Arnheim campaign.

Sebastian said: “It was the most extraordinary story, with many elements of The Great Escape about it, but for some reason it has never been filmed. People have sniffed around it before, but it has never made it to the screen. But it's a story that cries out to be told.”

The process by which British paratroopers were whisked away through the Dutch canals and dykes, under the nose of German patrols, was touched on in Richard Attenborough's classic account of Arnheim, A Bridge Too Far. It is seen from an American vantage point in Stephen Spielberg's TV series Band of Brothers.

However, Alex and Sebastian want to tell the story in individual rather than broad terms, tracking Operation Pegasus through the eyes of the people involved, both British and German. Alex says: “There were some quite extraordinary personal tales, starting with that of General Urquhart, who broke his back, and was hidden by the Dutch Resistance for three months before escaping.”

Sebastian's fascination with Operation Pegasus stretches back over 40 years, to long before Alex was born.

As a young actor, at the outset of his career in 1976, Sebastian was cast as a paratrooper in A Bridge Too Far. He found himself working alongside stars such as Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Robert Redford and Gene Hackman. The story of the summer's film-making is told in Sebastian's book, Boys from the Bridge.

Sebastian says: “It was then that I came across the Operation Pegasus story. It sparked off a deep desire to know more.” He researched the story fully, and talked to a number of people directly involved.

He also, years later, passed on the story to Alex.

Alex says: “I've always loved history, and when Dad told me about Operation Pegasus, the story gripped me in the same way that it had done with him.”

Sebastian had already written a feature film script about Pegasus. Then Alex – by now an established film director - joined forces with him on the project, and they changed the format.

Alex says: “The arrival of Netflix and the like has changed the landscape, and it is much easier to market a subject like this as a mini-series. Sebastian adds that a mini-series “also provides much more scope to tell the story in detail.”

Alex, who works behind the scenes at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff, between filming stints, already has a provisional cast and crew lined up. Many of them are from the Southend area, and have worked with him on his previous film, Le Chef.”

One professional actor who is guaranteed a role is Sebastian. He said: II shall be playing a German officer. It's a natural, really. I speak pretty good German – in Berlin they take me for a Berliner.”

This particular accomplishment has a family pedigree. Sebastian's own father, the actor John Abineri, specialised in playing World War 2 German officials, in films such as The Password is Courage and Operation Crossbow.

Operation Pegasus, however, will has a style and approach more suited to millennial audiences. Alex says: “The way it is written and edited will be modern, athough I will have my father on hand to advise on getting the dialogue and other period details right.”

Operation Pegasus all happened over 70 years ago, but Alex, still in his twenties, is convinced that the story has lost none of its impact. He says: “It will appeal to audiences of my own generation just as much as to my father's.”

The theme, he says, is universal. “Like Dunkirk, it's about getting home, against the odds. It's about resilience and not giving up.”

For Alex, this theme is just as relevant now as then. He says: “The world is tough for people of my age. It's easy to just give up. But the message of Operation Pegasus is – keep going, don't ever give up.”

* Alex and Sebastian Abineri need to raise £10,000 to film the pilot episode of Operation Pegasus. They will launch the crowd-funding process at the Southend Film Festival, with live appearances on May 26, and at the festival's closing gala event on May 28. Both appearances will be at 8.30pm. Venue: the Park Inn Palace Hotel ballroom.

  • WELL known local journalist and humour historian Tom King, and author of The Essex Joke Book, will present The Funny Side of Essex at the film festival.

Tom will take you on a comic journey round our county, lavishly illustrated with hilarious film clips.

From silent cinema days onward, via performers such as Reg Varney, Leslie Phillips and Joan Sims, right up to hit sitcoms like Hi de Hi!, Birds of a Feather and The Detectorists, The Funny Side of Essex demonstrates how Essex people and places have carried on making audiences howl with laughter.

Discover, too, about the vital role that Southend played in the life and film career of Charlie Chaplin. And learn how one classic item of Essex humour is now hurtling through outer space!

It takes place at 3:30pm at the Park Inn by Radisson Palace Royal View Suite.

Tickets are £6 via southendfilmfestival.com.