EXCLUSIVE: Ronan Bennett is writing the screenplay for this adaptation of Dean King’s true-life bestseller about 12 American sailors forced into slavery in Africa when they were shipwrecked in 1815. The sailors endured a punishing trek across the Sahara before they were taken prisoner. Captain James Riley’s account of their ordeal caused a sensation when it was published two years later. Abraham Lincoln said it was one of the books that had most influenced him alongside the Bible. Independent, the London-based sales company, is developing and producing. The sales house, whose previous credits include Moon, wants to make two of its own features a year in addition to projects it’s selling for others such as We Need to Talk About Kevin for BBC Films. “Skeletons On the Zahara is going to be a really fantastic project for the right American star to play Captain Riley,” Independent CEO Luc Roeg tells me.

This is a busy time for Bennett. In November Channel 4 starts shooting Top Boy, the 5-part TV drama that he’s written about gangster life on a London housing project. Bennett’s Easter Partisan production company is co-producing with Cowboy Films. He’s also writing an untitled project for Neil Jordan. And he’s producing the feature My Granny Made Me An Anarchist, based on the true-life account of a young man’s mission to assassinate Spanish dictator General Franco, in partnership with Film4 and the UK Film Council. Bennett has been an outspoken critic of the UK government’s decision to abolish the UKFC, calling it “crass, narrow and bigoted”.

Bennett is repped by Charles Collier of Tavistock Wood in London and CAA in the States.

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