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Making Toilers of the Sea

For David Shanks, the dream to translate Les Travailleurs de la Mer - Toilers of the Sea - into a feature film has been an ambition of his for over 30 years. David is a Guernseyman by connection, who arrived on the island aged 8; his sister still lives in Guernsey and his heart genuinely remains there.

Throughout his years making various other films, David and his wife and fellow Producer Joy Mellins frequently returned to this “passion project”, however running a company for other investors, the necessary time and energy was limited. However since returning to the independent sector, they feel the time is right for their dream to become a reality.

Our film will deliver a powerful, emotional, and respectful homage, not only to Victor Hugo, and his novel, but also to the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

Victor Hugo, although most well-known nowadays for Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was infamous during his life for his political beliefs. The radical notions he espoused led him to being exiled and after being banished from Jersey, he came to rest in Guernsey. He and his family lived in Hauteville House from October 1855 until 1870. He committed himself not only to the community around him through charity, but also to the house itself; which to this day welcomes visitors wishing to feel the spirit of Victor Hugo and learn more about his extraordinary life.

More than just a writer and a poet, Victor Hugo gave his heart and soul into all aspects of his life; the emotion and power of his novels is what we will evoke through Toilers of the Sea.

We will update this site with news and information as we raise money and confirm more members of the team. Keep updated via our social media links below, and let us know if you think you can help in any way.

Stay tuned - we cannot wait to share this incredible story with you!

Directors Vision

Andy Morahan

This is an epic story in every sense of the word. Written by the great Victor Hugo and based on various tales, legends and myths he experienced while exiled in Guernsey. It captures the cinematic scale of raging seas and the eclectic mix of characters that inhabited the island in the early 19th Century.


However on a more intimate level it also a very human love story that has universal appeal and resonance.


Our main character Gilliatt, both an outsider and a loner, is enraptured by the innocent spirit and radiance of a young woman Deruchette, the niece of a local Mariner and entrepreneur Lethierry. However his boat The Durande is the first engine-driven paddle steamer to run between the island and St Malo in France and is greeted with great suspicion by the local community, who perceive it as the ‘Devil’s boat’. When it runs aground offshore under suspicious circumstances, Lethierry offers the hand of his niece in marriage to anybody that can salvage the boat.


Although a seemingly impossible task, this is an opportunity Gilliatt can’t resist and what unfolds is one man’s supreme desire to fulfill that challenge, despite the obvious and inherent dangers, not to mention the monumental and life-threatening effort it takes to actually achieve. So the story of the film is to follow Gilliatt’s ‘journey’ as he sacrifices everything for his one shot at love and winning Deruchette’s hand.


The script, like the book is light on dialogue, designed to work as a combination of picture, music and narrative. For me as a director this is a gift, beautifully suited to the depth and breadth of Hugo’s storytelling. This approach will produce something both dynamic and magical; a unique cinematic experience infused with a dramatic intensity that is based on a subtle intimacy between the characters and the bombastic moments of the raging elements (like seas, storms and ‘monsters from the deep’ etc) that are an intrinsic element and significant backdrop to the film.


From a visual perspective I also want the whole look and feel of the film to have a ‘signature style’ that both reflects and compliments the intensity of the narrative and also the subject matter. I want it to feel like it is raw and visceral at times and that we are really there, especially in the moments of high drama and action, where literally the next wave will wipe everything out. For that, we would need jibs and rigs, super-light ‘go-pro’ style cams strapped to falling masts and timbers etc. underwater camerawork and specialist drones to give us all the dramatic angles to enhance the intensity and danger of those particular sequences

"For me as a director this is a gift, beautifully suited to the depths and breadth of Hugo's storytelling. This approach will produce something both dynamic and magical; a unique cinematic experience infused with a dramatic intensity."

This is an epic story in every sense of the word. Written by the great Victor Hugo and based on various tales, legends and myths he experienced while exiled in Guernsey. It captures the cinematic scale of raging seas and the eclectic mix of characters that inhabited the island in the early 19th Century.


However on a more intimate level it also a very human love story that has universal appeal and resonance.


Our main character Gilliatt, both an outsider and a loner, is enraptured by the innocent spirit and radiance of a young woman Deruchette, the niece of a local Mariner and entrepreneur Lethierry. However his boat The Durande is the first engine-driven paddle steamer to run between the island and St Malo in France and is greeted with great suspicion by the local community, who perceive it as the ‘Devil’s boat’. When it runs aground offshore under suspicious circumstances, Lethierry offers the hand of his niece in marriage to anybody that can salvage the boat.


Although a seemingly impossible task, this is an opportunity Gilliatt can’t resist and what unfolds is one man’s supreme desire to fulfill that challenge, despite the obvious and inherent dangers, not to mention the monumental and life-threatening effort it takes to actually achieve. So the story of the film is to follow Gilliatt’s ‘journey’ as he sacrifices everything for his one shot at love and winning Deruchette’s hand.


The script, like the book is light on dialogue, designed to work as a combination of picture, music and narrative. For me as a director this is a gift, beautifully suited to the depth and breadth of Hugo’s storytelling. This approach will produce something both dynamic and magical; a unique cinematic experience infused with a dramatic intensity that is based on a subtle intimacy between the characters and the bombastic moments of the raging elements (like seas, storms and ‘monsters from the deep’ etc) that are an intrinsic element and significant backdrop to the film.