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2 Hollywood Actors Have Been Cast In The Biopic About Sarawak Rajah James Brooke

The film is set to begin production in Sarawak this week.

Cover image via BBC Francis Grant NME

A Hollywood biopic based on Sir James Brooke a.k.a. the first White Rajah of Sarawak is finally going into production, with Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers tapped to play the legendary British explorer

Sarawak's first Rajah Sir James Brooke (left) will be played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (right).

Image via Francis Grant / BBC

The Borneo Post reported that The White Rajah is set to begin shooting this week and will reportedly be shot entirely in Sarawak

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Rhys Meyers - who starred as King Henry VIII in The Tudors as well as having appeared in Mission: Impossible III and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones - will also perform parts of the movie in Malay, Dayak, and Arabic, as Brooke was a linguist who readily adapted and immersed himself in the region's culture. 

Brooke, a prominent figure in our Sejarah textbooks, was appointed the Rajah of Sarawak in 1841 after helping the Sultan of Brunei crush a pirate rebellion and restore the latter to his throne

The former soldier, who had fled a romantic scandal to explore Borneo in the 1840s, would go on to rule Sarawak until his death in 1868

During his rule, Brooke waged a lifetime crusade against piracy, slavery, and headhunting, which led to a knighthood in 1848. Later, Brooke would find himself tried for murder and piracy after defying the British Empire's attempts to colonise Sarawak. 

The reign of the White Rajah lasted three generations across a century, and the family's legacy is now immortalised in the recently opened Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita in Kuching, Sarawak. 

Rajah James Brooke.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

The movie has been in the works since 2010, when producer and screenwriter Rob Allyn picked up a coffee table book called The White Rajahs Of Sarawak in Singapore

"It was a fantastic book with beautiful illustrations of all the Sarawak tribes and the exotic locations, and the story was just an incredible romantic adventure. So, the first thing I did was get on IMDb (Internet Movie Database) and make sure there wasn’t a movie about it," Allyn told The Star in a 2016 interview.

From left: Jason Brooke (a descendant of James Brooke), director Sergei Bodrov (who was attached to the project in 2016), and producer Rob Allyn visiting potential set locations up the Sarawak River.

Image via Rob Allyn / The Star

The movie will reportedly be filmed in a combination of Bahasa Malaysia, English, Iban, Bidayuh, and other native Sarawak dialects. The script will also incorporate details from Brooke's diaries, letters, first-hand historical accounts, and archives of The Brooke Heritage Trust, with the latter serving as the film's technical advisory.

With Michael Haussman in the director's chair, Rhys Meyers will also be joined by English actor Dominic Monaghan (Lost, The Lord of the Rings series) and Hong Kong singer-turned-actress Josie Ho

Dominic Monaghan (left) and Josie Ho (right).

Image via Roy Rochlin / Getty Images / The New Paper

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Monaghan will play Colonel Arthur Crookshank, Brooke's cousin and comrade-in-arms, while Ho will play Madame Lim, a Chinese leader and Brooke's former lover.

The Borneo Post reported that local actors Bront Palarae, Shaheizy Sam, and Rahim Razali have also been cast in the movie

In addition, the film is supported by the Sarawak Tourism Board and the federal FIMI film rebate, marking the first time the rebate has been used to make a Hollywood movie outside of Peninsular Malaysia.

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